Bad Santa
4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Terry Zwigoff
scr John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
with Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Cloris Leachman, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, Tom McGowan, Octavia Spencer, John Bunnell, Matt Walsh
release US 26.Nov.03; UK 5.Nov.04
03/US 1h33

Wha'dya want for Christmas, little boy? Thornton, Mac and Cox

thornton mac ritter
See also:
Bad Santa 2 (2016)
bad santa This film is a breath of fresh air at a time when movies try far too hard to keep everyone unruffled. Clever direction and casting make this a thoroughly rude holiday classic for adults--and it's about time we had one of those!

Willie (Thornton) is a lowlife alcoholic who works as a department store Santa every year. But the job is a front for a scam he runs with Marcus (Cox), a dwarf who poses as an elf but is actually the brains of the operation. Or maybe that's Marcus' shrewish wife (Tom). This year's job is in an anonymous mall in Phoenix, where they quickly annoy the staff (fastidious manager Ritter and sardonic security chief Mac). Then Willie makes two new friends: a sexy barmaid who has a thing about Father Christmas, and a nerdy fat kid (Kelly) who adopts "Santa" and takes him home.

It doesn't sound like much, but amid the general impudence the film actually says something about how people connect with each other. But this is not a message film; it's an outrageous comedy that will make you laugh more than most films this year. (Unless you're easily offended, in which case it will enrage you more than most films this year!) There are no cliches here except the ones the filmmakers are standing on their heads.

Zwigoff's direction is clever and full of personality, but without any distracting flashiness, while the script is packed with quotable dialog. Meanwhile, a perfectly cast Thornton delivers a terrific performance as a drunken loser completely uninterested in any redeeming qualities he might have. And as the chubby psycho-kid, Kelly manages to create a dignified person we laugh at ... but he's the only one who seems to understand what's going on.

Most thankfully though, the film's mean and nasty without ever compromising for a second. And it's very funny! The gross-out humour is seamlessly woven into the story--it's there for a reason--and even the rather sweet moments at the end are underscored with black humour. Brilliant!

cert 15 strong adult themes and situations, language, violence 27.Dec.03

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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall