A common misconception about Bad Santa from the beginning is that the film is portraying Santa Claus as an alcoholic thief. The truth of the matter is that the movie portrays an alcoholic safe cracker disguising as Santa Claus to pull off his next job. The film is by no means directly an anti-Santa or anti-Christmas movie. It is simply using Santa as a disguise.
Watching Bad Santa, for many, will be the equivalent of having a root canal. But for those of us who need a fix of cruel holiday-time humor, you cannot do better than Bad Santa.
Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie, a down and out safe cracker who works with Marcus (Cox). Together they pose as Santa and elf at various malls, then run a scheme in which they take off with all the store’s loot after hours. The money then lasts them until the next Christmas.
This year’s Christmas will prove to be more than Willie can handle. Willie and Marcus eyeball a new department store run by Bob Chipeska (Ritter, in sadly his last theatrical performance) and overseen by the not-so watchful eye of security monitor Gin (Mac). Also thrown into the mix is a bartender Willie meets, Sue (Graham). She happens to have a thing for men dressed up as Santa.
To complicate things even further for Willie and Marcus is the arrival of The Kid (Kelly). He is a social outcast and lives with his near-senile grandma. But Willie sees this as a perfect opportunity to find a place to shack up. After all, The Kid does think he is Santa Claus, so why not?
What will shock many a viewer about Bad Santa is the undeniable mean-spiritedness of the entire film. You keep waiting for just that point in the movie when it will cop out and get mushy, but it really does not happen. This is a film that took a lot of guts to make, and that earns praise from me.
Thornton’s performance here really has to be seen to be believed. For an actor to keep up such a tone of hatred is much easier said than done. He has spoken openly about how difficult it was to cuss at kids and be mean to them.
Tony Cox as Marcus also keeps the laughs rolling with his profanity-spewing elf character. He gives diatribes of such unbelievable strings of bad language that it will leave you google-eyed, and laughing.
On a sad note, this is John Ritter’s last film. He is perfect as the sheepish, politically correct Bob Chipeska. It is truly a tragedy that we will not see Ritter in any new films after this, but he will be forever remembered as a gifted comedian.
I do feel the need to reitterate that this is not a film that kids should see under any circumstances. While the film earns its hard R rating in the first few minutes, this does not seem to have stopped a few parents from taking their children to see it. With 130+ F-words (Kids In Mind), this movie is highly inappropriate for kids.
Bad Santa is already a thoroughly misunderstood film. I am giving it a positive rating because this film really takes chances, and for this reviewer that is refreshing. Bad Santa will undoubtedly be offensive to many, but for those who loathe the holidays or simply have a blacker-than-normal sense of humor, this is best gift you could possibly get this holiday season.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 93 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive language, strong sexual content, and some violence.
Theatrical Release: November 26, 2003
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Written by: John Requa & Glenn Ficarra
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, John Ritter