12 Films of Christmas: Bad Santa | Film reviews, news & interviews
12 Films of Christmas: Bad Santa
Santa is one bad mutha in this seasonal sidesplitter from Terry Zwigoff
A film for those who see the festive period as a never-ending trudge from bar to bed via a shedload of booze, Terry Zwigoff’s delightfully deviant offering from 2003 gives us a trash-talking, beer-slugging Father Christmas, unimprovably played by Billy Bob Thornton. This chaotic Santa becomes the unlikely guardian of a troubled child. Wildly funny and oddly cheering, Bad Santa puts the crass in Christmas.
Bad Santa is brazenly drunken from start to finish, it even begins in a bar. Willie (Thornton) is a misanthropic, alcohol-dependent, suicidal safe-cracker. For the past seven Christmases he’s been moving from city to city, posing as Santa to infiltrate and rob shopping centres. His criminal accomplice is the suitably elf-sized Marcus (Tony Cox), the brains and professionalism of the operation, who’s accompanied by a mercenary, materialistic wife, Lois (Lauren Tom). When they move their operation to a store in Phoenix the trio appear to have struck gold with nervous store manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter) and Willie even has some luck with the ladies in the “big and tall” section of the store - but have they met their match in Head of Security, Gin (Bernie Mac)?
Willie’s making a concerted effort to drink himself to death, with an exasperated Marcus describing him as “too pathetic for words”. Enter the unfortunately named Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), a slow-witted and painfully sincere eight-year-old, and Willie’s last shot at salvation. Together with Willie’s love interest Sue (Lauren Graham) - a sweet, sozzled Santa groupie - Thurman slowly but surely turns this bad Santa good. Zwigoff’s film takes a pleasingly roundabout route to its fairly conventional moral conclusion, not that it ever sheds its depraved shtick. This refreshingly twisted approach is best summed up by Willie after what passes for an emotional breakthrough: “I beat the shit out of some kids today, but it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself.”
Watch the trailer for Bad Santa
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Superlative performances in Mike Leigh's ravishingly filmed hyper-biopic
Hungarian allegory on racism and the rise of the far right fails to cohere
Smart, striking horror starring Maika Monroe and directed by David Robert Mitchell
Marlon Brando bombs in ludicrous Michael Winner-directed prequel to 'The Turn of the Screw'
Flattest ceremony in years honours 'Birdman', Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore
One woman's kink is another woman's poison in Peter Strickland's bracing erotic romance
Gruelling and action-packed story of a tank crew battling across Nazi Germany
Jennifer Aniston aims for awards-season big time and misses
Observation of Ukraine revolution remains just that
Elia Kazan’s multi-faceted drama still provokes
Not even Michael Mann can make cyberhacking come to life on the big screen
More, please, sir. EL James's filmed fable doesn't go the distance