Movie Review: Bad Santa


A drunken thief who poses as Santa comes to understand the true meaning of Christmas.


Terry Zwigoff, 2003

Working once a year is an easy scheme for Willie (Billy Bob Thornton). A constantly drunk misanthrope, he despises being Santa, swearing at children and pissing himself in Santa’s chair. However, performing as Santa and an elf, he and his mastermind friend, little person Marcus (Tony Cox) get easy access to the mall after hours. Every Christmas they rob the mall, then live on the money for a year before starting up the scheme again in a new town. This year, as Willie hits a low point, he meets an unusual, bullied boy (Brett Kelly) who won’t leave him alone. Forced to hide out, he holes up at the kid’s house, where he begins to realise just how neglected the poor kid is. With the the mall’s head of security (Bernie Mac) nipping at his heels and a new girlfriend (Lauren Graham), Willie starts to turn his life around, but it might just be too late.


Humour is subjective. I’m sure there’s plenty of people to whom this is the funniest movie that was ever made. There are probably plenty more people who laughed pretty often. I didn’t. This kind of mean-spirited humour just isn’t really my thing. The movie is fairly equal opportunity on the offensiveness front, though there is an unpleasant gay rape joke and women aren’t treated well; also, I understand the point of the humour. The anachronism of a guy in a Santa suit swearing at kids is done pretty much to death, but I get why it would be funny to people. And I did laugh a few times; there’s a boxing scene between Willie, Marcus, and the unnamed kid that made me chuckle. The occasional humour is offset by nastiness, though; the boxing scene follows one in which Willie beats up a fifteen year old. It’s also well-made, even if the territory it treads is well-worn. The pacing is tight, and there’s a genuine surprise in the film’s climax.

The actors throw themselves into the roles, particularly Billy Bob Thornton, who is tailor-made for this role. He absolutely goes for it, so there’s no lack of commitment here. Tony Cox is terrific as his much put-upon partner in crime, voicing the audience’s concerns and working the elf performance as much as he can in order to keep them in business. John Ritter is funny as well, his discomfort in dealing with Willie and Marcus palpable. The film’s two Laurens, Tom and Graham, are both great, if underserved by the plot. While it’s completely incomprehensible as to why Lauren Graham’s Sue is interested in Willie beyond the initial attraction, she’s always delightful. Lauren Tom gets a funnier role as Marcus’s girlfriend, tricked out in furs and expensive sunglasses stolen from the various malls, though again, it’s a very thin role. I’m sure lots of people got a kick out of Bad Santa, but it’s not really my thing.

Bad Santa on IMDb


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