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Bad Santa   B

Dimension Films

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, John Ritter, Bernie Mac.

Review by Sean O'Connell

From the bottom of the "Naughty" list comes Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa, a dark comedy so black it resembles a Christmas lump of coal. Zwigoff's screenwriters use nasty adult humor (leave the kids at home, please) to provide shock therapy to your funny bone. The potshots are broad and extremely offensive, but also droll and consistently wicked.

Santa does need a storyline to hold up its humor. Jokes are plentiful, but the plot's as thin as the real Santa is fat. Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and his dwarf companion Marcus (Tony Cox) share a unique holiday tradition. Posing as Santa and his elf, the two infiltrate shopping malls, work the local children for weeks, then loot the store's safe.

Marcus' challenge lies in keeping his surly Saint Nick sober long enough to finish the job. Disgusted by his lot in life, Willie drinks and swears incessantly, favors overweight women and insults children. His malicious tirades are loaded with bile, offset by the occasional zinger.

The primary gag isn't that a furious troll like Willie walks our streets, but that he does so in a Santa suit (which he rarely takes off, even to go to the bathroom). Without the traditional red-and-white costume, he's just another sewer rat drowning in bourbon. Some people even find him more attractive in the suit, including sexy Sue (Lauren Graham), a bartender with a Claus fetish.

Bad Santa eventually gets around to introducing us to young Brett Kelly, a chubby kid with the unfortunate assignment of absorbing most of Thornton's rants, then spitting back the right amount of sweet, innocent Christmas cheer. Forced to go toe-to-toe with Thornton's acidic weasel, Kelly plays a perfect delusional idiot. Their shared scenes threaten to warm the film's heart, if only it had one.

Review published 11.25.2003.

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