Friday Film Review: Bad Santa
Bad Santa (aka Bad(der) Santa) (2003)
“Can I at least take the hat off?” – Willie
“No, I love the hat!” – Sue
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love decorating my trees and the outside porch. I love it when someone opens my gift to them and their face lights up. I love getting together with loved ones. I look forward to it all. But with merchants putting out decorations before October is half over and radio stations beginning to play carols on November 1st, sometimes I lose a little of my holiday cheer and my smile becomes slightly strained. That’s when I need this film. I’m pretty sure my reputation will take a nose dive from this and I’m almost embarrassed myself that I enjoy this movie as much as I do but it’s the perfect antidote to crass commercialism and having to listen to the same carols for the ninth time in one day. This plus my favorite anti-Christmas carol will get me through.
Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (Tony Cox) have the perfect scheme. Eleven months out of the year, they do nothing. Then each December, they pick a different mall in a different part of the country and get jobs as the mall Santa and his elf. They then case the place, learn all about the security, make their list and check it twice before skipping nice and just staying with naughty. After Marcus cherry picks the items he wants and Willie cracks the safe, they’re off – Marcus to enjoy the time off and Willie to keep getting drunk. Each year, Willie is worse and worse and Marcus has to make excuses (low blood sugar is a favorite) for his drunken behavior on the job. But each needs the other and this year they find themselves in Arizona.
Willie quickly hooks up with Sue (Lauren Graham), a bartender who has a thing for Santa, and ends up staying at the house of a friendless child (Brett Kelly) whose father is out of the country and whose grandmother (Cloris Leachman) is in La La land. Meanwhile, the prim HR director of the mall Bob Chipeska (John Ritter) is horrified to learn the true nature of the Santa he’s hired and turns to the mall security director Gin (Bernie Mac) to find some way to fire him. Will everything go to hell in a handcart or is this the year Willie learns the true meaning of Christmas?
Just to be sure everyone knows, let me be perfectly clear about this film. It’s raunchy. It’s dirty. It’s overflowing with four letter words (just go to the IMDB and check the trivia section for a rundown done by someone who obviously has more free time than I do). And it has a Santa who enjoys fucking any woman he can get to agree to it. Well, except for Grandma. If you like “The Hangover” or “Bridesmaids” then be aware that this movie is worse than either of them. That being said, it’s hilarious.
Billy Bob Thornton has a tough job to make you actually like Willie, and there are times when I agree with Marcus that Willie’s soul is dog shit, but for the most part I can laugh at Willie because he knows how bad he is and frankly doesn’t care. He’s on a path to self destruction but, like the Grinch, he finally gets turned around – or as turned around as it’s possible for him to get. Thornton’s deadpan comic delivery is perfect. Tony Cox is funny – and as foul mouthed – as Thornton and the chemistry between them is of people who’ve known and worked with each other for years. But my favorite character is played by John Ritter in his last film role. Chipeska trying to come up with clean way of describing to Gin what he caught Willie doing with a woman in the Women’s Big and Tall dressing rooms is hysterical. Just watch for the expressions on Ritter’s face. Or when Chipeska tries to fire the duo and they turn the situation on him leaving him sputtering and on the defensive trying to avoid a lawsuit over Unfair Practices.
Brett Kelly plays The Kid as such a loser but one with a heart of gold whose unswerving support of the man he knows isn’t really Santa finally gets Willie to be a better man than he’s ever been. Watch for the boxing scene as Willie tries to build up The Kid’s confidence and boxing abilities. No matter how many times I rewind and see it, it leaves me gasping with laughter. The late Bernie Mac played Gin as someone who is worse than Willie and Marcus with a mouth just as raunchy who also gets his comeuppance. And check out Lauren Tom in a small part as Marcus’s avaricious wife Lois.
The plot does have holes in it – no mention or accommodation is ever made for security cameras or dye tags, Willie and Marcus leave finger prints on everything and I would imagine past store managers could describe them easily to the police. But forget all that in the interest of entertainment. I’d also love to know how the film makers got the rights holders of so many well known and beloved Christmas songs to agree to have those be in a film that not only earned it’s Restricted rating but which also revels in that rating. But I’m just glad they did.
So, if you need a break from the frenzy at the mall, or are almost mental at the thought of that coworker with the tie which lights up, or are dreading the trip to your in-laws who just love to put out the toilet roll holder which plays Christmas carols then grab a bottle of something alcoholic and settle down with Bad Santa. I’ll bet you’ll never look at a mall Santa in quite the same way again.
Just a quick note about the various versions of this film. I think “Bad Santa” is what was seen during the theatrical release. “Bad(der) Santa” is more scenes added to or extended original scenes of “Bad Santa.” The Director’s Cut is supposed to be leaner, meaner and darker with some of the comedy bits taken out and a much different ending.