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?
Behind the artistic life of the great Spanish painter, and the National Gallery exhibition
Spielberg's warm-hearted Cold War thriller is lit up by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance
Gruelling Boston crime saga brings out the best of Johnny Depp
Oscar-winning masterpiece from the Czech New Wave
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are the star-crossed lovers of a ravishing romance
Fine performances in a touching eating-disorder drama from Sweden
Reappraising George Hoellering - his screen version of TS Eliot's verse drama, and remarkable documentaries
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Kate Winslet revenge drama needs serious alterations
Very bearable lightness of being in off-beat Mexican New Wave urban comedy
The only way is Essex to Cambridgeshire for lovelorn Romantic poet John Clare
The movie star who dreamed of being a race ace