MRR Movie Review: Bad Santa

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A Christmas-time crime comedy written and directed by Terry Zwigoff starring Billy Bob Thornton as a miserable conman, who, along with his dwarf partner, poses as Santa and his Little Helper in order to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. The unlikely duo's plan hits a snag, however, when "Santa" winds up befriending a troubled, chubby kid, and the security boss discovers the plot. Also starring Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Thom & John Ritter.
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Movie Review: "Bad Santa"

-- Rating: R
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 26, 2003
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Genre: Comedy/Crime

"Bad Santa" is a crime/comedy Christmas movie written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Terry Zwigoff served as director. In the movie, two friends Willie (portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (portrayed by Tony Cox) have devised a seemingly perfect scheme that enables them work only one month out of the entire year.

Every December, they choose a different shopping mall in a different part of the country and secure jobs as Santa Claus and an elf. They use this job merely as a front. Their real intentions involve casing the place and noting its potential security loopholes. Marcus has the job of stealing expensive and coveted goods from the store, while Willie masterfully cracks the store's safe. Willie uses his loot to get drunk, while Marcus prefers to save his money for the next eleven months.

With each subsequent year, or with each new job, Willie's performance at the crime site substantially declines. They both need each other to pull off these crimes. To no avail, Marcus attempts to create excuses for Willie's performance. His favorite excuse is that his buddy suffers from low blood sugar and related complications.

Eventually, they find themselves in Arizona, where Willie hooks up with Sue (portrayed by Lauren Graham). Sue is a bartender with an overwhelming crush on Santa. He ends up staying with a friendless child whom they refer to as The Kid (portrayed by Brett Kelly). The Kid's grandma (portrayed by Cloris Graham) is senile, and his father is out of the country. Things don't go so well for them in Arizona, however, because the director of the mall, Bob Chipeska (portrayed by John Ritter), learns about their criminal scheme. He hands them over to the man in charge of security in the mall, Gin (portrayed by Bernie Mac), whom Bob wishes to fire. Turning the two culprits over to Gin is an attempt to find fault with him.

"Bad Santa" is decidedly twisted and unreasonably funny. Santa is uncouth, unkempt, and foul-mouthed throughout the movie. Many viewers would agree that this film violates all of the unwritten rules in Hollywood. Never before has movie audiences witnessed such a morally corrupt Santa, one that has no qualms about kicking a reindeer into pieces. The Kid isn't sweet as one would expect from a Christmas film; he is just a broody stalker and a needy one, at that. The predominating belief that weirdo movies attract huge audiences may hold true because "Bad Santa" certainly succeeded.

The movie's promoters released a deceptively feel-good trailer. The trailer seems more fitting for another movie, in fact. From the opening credits, when Willie is puking outside of a bar, the viewer is left in uncertainty and suspense as to what the next scene will show. Lots of profanity, drug abuse, and violence quickly show that the stereotypical holiday warmth and good feelings are not the focus of the film.

Those who prefer their comedies dark and unsweetened, however, will love watching "Bad Santa." The dialogue is decidedly funny and controversial; viewers of this raunchy comedy are left confused, dangling over the line of acceptability and unacceptability. Credit must be given to the writers, Ficarra and Requa. They succeeded in writing a Christmas comedy that has generated a lot of controversy.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect, because there are a few errors in it. Surely, the malls Willie and Marcus rob so easily must have dye tags or security cameras? Moreover, the two leave their fingerprints all over the stores they rob. In reality, this would make them extremely easy targets for the authorities. Viewers must understand that the movie uses a surreal basis. The producers intended for the film to be a funny entertainment piece, not a fact-based documentary.

Zwigoff's professional experience helped contribute to the film's success. Zwigoff, an American filmmaker, is notorious for his productions that often feature antiheroes, misfits, and heavy themes of alienation. He is a film writer, director, and producer whose works include "Crumb," "Ghost World," and "Art School Confidential," among others. "Ghost World" received several nominations, including two nominations for Golden Globe Awards, one for an Academy Award, and two for AFI. Those who love Christmas cheer movies should watch "Elf." Those who prefer a howling comedy filled with deranged and despairing characters and witty dialogue will definitely prefer "Bad Santa."

Rating: 4 out of 5