Bad Santa review by Mike Long

As someone who's seen many, many movies and has worked on the inpatient unit of a mental hospital, little shocks me anymore. Whether it be a comedy, horror, or drama, when a film can be surprising, that always make me sit up and take notice. There's nothing more satisfying than when a movie comes completely out of left field and takes the viewer by surprise. The Billy Bob Thornton vehicle Bad Santa appears to have been made somewhere far beyond left field, as the film takes "blue" material to a whole new level. And the "Badder Santa" unrated DVD version of the film answers any questions about whether or not this Christmas film is appropriate for children.

Thornton stars in Bad Santa as Willie T. Stokes, a man who apparently makes his living dressing-up as a department store Santa Clause during the holidays. But, Willie is the last person who should be playing St. Nick, as he is a foul-mouthed alcoholic who is also a sex-addict. However, Willie's role as Santa is actually a ruse, as he and his diminutive partner Marcus (Tony Cox), who plays an Elf to Willie’s Santa, use their holiday jobs to case and then rob the department stores. As the film opens, Willie and Marcus have just finished a job and go their separate ways. But, the following Christmas, Willie and Marcus are back together in Phoenix to pull another heist.

Unfortunately, this one isn’t going to go as smoothly as their jobs in the past. For starters, Willie’s drinking is worse than ever. Secondly, the store manager, Mr. Chipeska (John Ritter) and security chief, Gin (Bernie Mac), are watching Marcus and Willie very closely. But things get really weird for Willie when he meets a strange kid (Brett Kelly), who believes that Willie is the real Santa. Once he learns that the kid lives only with his senile grandmother, Willie seizes the situation and moves into the kid’s house. Meanwhile, Willie has found an unusual love interest in a bartender named Sue (Lauren Graham), a woman who has a Santa fetish. With all of these distractions, will Willie and Marcus be able to rip off the store and get away?

If Bad Santa sounds a bit odd, then you’ve only seen the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This movie starts off strange and then moves into totally alien territory. Is that a bad thing? Hell, no! Bad Santa is one of the first movies to come along in quite some time that held my attention for the full running time as I kept waiting to see where it was going to go next. From the outset, we are given the idea that Willie is a lecherous man, but as the film progresses, this character continues to sink into the bowels of depravity, guaranteeing that the viewer has little idea of what is coming next. (And this from a film in which Willie urinates on himself in the first act!) Bad Santa does a great job of playing against our assumptions and expectations, as we assume that Willie is a human being on some level, despite his faults, but he constantly smashes those notions with his language and behavior. In short, Willie may be one of the most disgusting and repulsive characters (let alone, MAIN characters) in movie history, but he’s also one of the funniest and most entertaining. The sheer audacity of his actions and the vulgarity of the words which come out of his mouth create a mesmerizing effect. I have to compare Bad Santa to Clerks in the way that it keeps topping itself in regards to insanity and foul language.

And while Billy Bob Thornton certainly makes the film memorable (I'm no Oscar pundit, but I can't imagine why he wasn't nominated for this wacky role...oh, maybe I can.), he gets a great deal of help from his fellow cast and the talent behind the camera. The only previous credit for screenwriters Glenn Ficarra & John Requa was the overly-cute kiddie film Cats & Dogs (which was too babyish for even me!), so one wouldn't expect this duo to deliver such a decidedly adult comedy. However, their script (working from an idea from Joel & Ethan Coen) constantly turns upon itself, morphing from heist film to buddy comedy to morality play (sort of). Director Terry Zwigoff, who had proven himself to be very much in touch with alt-cinema with Crumb and Ghost World, has crafted a film that walks the very fine-line between art film and gross-out comedy. The supporting cast shines as well, most notably Tony Cox, who goes toe-to-toe with Thornton in many scenes, and Brett Kelly, as the one of the most clueless children to ever grace a movie screen. In the tradition of There's Something About Mary, Bad Santa is a film which presents a seemingly normal situation and then launches into overdrive thanks to its unique characters, resulting in a very twisted, but funny film.

Bad Santa ho, ho, hos onto DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Video. The film is being released in two separate versions, one which contains the R-rated theatrical cut and so-called "Badder Santa" release, which has an unrated version. For this review, the "Badder Santa" version was screened (more on this in a moment). The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is pretty good, as the image is sharp, clear, and relatively free from grain. The colors are particularly good, as Zwigoff shot the film in a very natural style, so the red of Willie's Santa suit stands out against the white and green backdrop of his work area in the store. There is some noticeable edge-enhancement in some shots, but otherwise the transfer looks good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no indication of hissing or distortion. For the most part, the film is a dialogue driven comedy and there is little action from the rear or subwoofer channels, but they do come to life during the finale and demonstrate a generous soundfield.

The DVD contains a handful of extras. A 9-minute behind-the-scenes featurette entitled "Bad Santa: Not Your Typical Christmas Movie" is pretty straight-forward making of segment, but it does a fine job of eliciting comments from all of the actors and those behind the camera. There are 3 deleted scenes on the DVD, one of which is pretty good (showing store Santa Claus training), but the others are throw-away. The "Badder Santa" Gag Reel is 90-seconds long and contains some laughs, some of which are similar to moments in the 4-minute outtake reel. This "Badder Santa" edition runs some 7 minutes longer than the R-rated cut. I haven't seen the original cut, so I can't comment on what material is new here, but it's a good bet that some of the more shocking moments didn't make the R-rated version.

9 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus