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?
Darkness risible: Tom Hiddleston stars as Hank Williams in lacklustre biopic
Florence Foster Jenkins's biographer tells the true story of her common-law husband, played by Hugh Grant in Stephen Frears's new film
Terrence Malick's first movie shot in LA is a star-studded disappointment
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Torrents of blood in the Wyoming snow
Dead man walking: Hungarian exploration of the closed universe of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Dustin Hoffman dresses as a woman to become a better man in a lovingly crafted screwball comedy
Gentle comedy about elderly bank-robbers ends up reconfirming the very cliches it sets out to challenge
After 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Wild', Jean-Marc Vallée rebuilds another life, with Jake Gyllenhaal
Rousing romp from the Marvel universe is funny, sad, satirical and spectacular
Sub-texts galore in grade-A Ealing melodrama
Death-defying aerial stunts with a twist of Hawksian romance