Christmas movies are a time-honored tradition within our society. They all contain the same morals, and end with singing, laughing, and a sense of generosity towards fellow man. The happiness is sticky, gooey; a wad of chewing gum hooked to the inner walls of a bleeding heart. If you’re like me, disgusted with such cookie-cutter creations, and desire a true holiday classic, then Bad Santa is the film for you.
To eliminate prior confusion, this is the third edition of Bad Santa on DVD, an unrated and theatrical version have already been released previously. As the shortest version of all, rounded out around 88 minutes (the unrated version is 98 minutes; theatrical 91 minutes), it is hardly that much different. A couple of scenes were cut, though if one had not viewed either of the previous editions, their absence would be unnoticeable.
The story remains the same, of course. Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton), a self-described ‘eating, drinking, shitting, fucking Santa Claus’, makes Mr. Scrooge look a saint by comparison. Embittered with his pathetic life, he earns his way by posing as Santa Claus in department stores, aided by his diminutive friend Marcus (Tony Cox) as the necessary elf, and robbing the store blind on Christmas Eve. Their latest target seems easy but certain complications arise, not least of which is Willie’s preferences for intense booze, vulgar language, and women.
Eternally optimistic and upbeat, Brett Kelly adds his own variety of off-color humor playing the obligatory Kid. The Kid, so named except for one scene, lives alone in a mansion under the care of Grandma (Cloris Leachman), a character fixated on fixing sandwiches. Due to circumstances, Willie hides out with The Kid, sourly taking advantage of the child’s admiration.
Purposefully overstuffed with horrid ‘classic’ Christmas music and pitch-black comedy, Bad Santa is most definitely not one for the kiddies. The amount of F-bombs dropped alone proves this, but add to that a complete disgust with all things holiday – except for one character with a Santa fetish – and you have a film nearly any adult torn down by a ruthless corporate consumed Christmas might enjoy. Unlike some holiday films that take aim at corporate greed and the ‘true meaning of Christmas’, Bad Santa couldn’t care less. It’s purely character driven, unashamedly in your face about the silliness which follows the season year after year (obsessed parents, overdone happiness, selfish children after the latest fad).
Aside from a somewhat sappy ending, this film breaks just about every convention that seems to govern holiday cinema. There is no sudden change of heart by movie’s end, no miraculous occurrence, and especially not a schmaltzy second of sap to be found. The characters, however 2-D they might seem from the start, remain true to the end. I cannot think of anyone better for the lead role, played with such vile humanity and cynical humor by Billy Bob Thornton. He completely embodies the burned-out professional, tired and bored with life, dulling the pain through excessive drinking. He’s a guy who’s just trying to make a living, utilizing his limited talents to their fullest capacity.
Tony Cox, stated in the DVD’s commentary as having little professional training, has incredible comedic timing, knowing how to punctuate each twisted psychoanalysis and expletive with the perfect tone. Markus and Willie argue and disagree in just about the entirety of the film, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they met up and concocted this scheme.
The many side characters enhance Bad Santa’s merrily miserable world. Gin (Bernie Mac), the nosy cop wanting in on the Santa scheme; John Ritter, in what would be his final memorable movie role, as Bob Chipeska, the prissy owner of the department store. If a film lives or dies by its performances, this one without a doubt has a lengthy life span.
Elaborating upon a comment earlier, the movie is missing a few scenes I found hilarious in other versions. For instance, Willie tries to teach The Kid how to box, using Markus as the opponent. Naturally, things go wrong, but the best thing is Willie trying to motivate The Kid to be scary, which is the equivalent of wanting a mouse to terrify a lion. Another scene cut is Bob Chipeska attempting to fire both Markus and Willie, and through the crooks’ manipulations, ends up agreeing to pretend the conversation never happened. Neither scene added anything particularly important, aside from great lines and memorable moments. Their loss does not detract from the Director’s Cut in any way, and for some, a shorter running time may be an improvement.
From what I can recall of earlier versions, the extras are pulled straight from those, with the exception of a new commentary track to compliment the cut. Director Terry Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman discuss, of course, the differences of the Bad Santa’s previous versions to this one. They also discuss their musical choices, location shots, praises for the casts, hatred for test audiences; what you would usually expect, basically. Their tone is conversational yet informative, and they seem to enjoy sharing their thoughts on the film.
The disc contains five deleted scenes, four of which were wisely cut. A training school for Santa’s, which would’ve appeared near the beginning of the film, perfectly sets up the film’s comedy while further exploring the main character. I can only guess it was cut for time constraints, as no commentary is provided. A fluff piece about the film rounds out the extras, with a five-minute Bloopers reel adding fleeting amusement.
The dvd is put together well, though a ‘Director Approved’ sticker on the cover, featuring the director’s signature, was a bit overdone. According to what I’ve read over various forums, this version of the film is Mr. Zwigoff’s vision, and how he intended it to be viewed. Whether that will be enough to warrant a double or even third dip on the DVD is up to the buyer to decide.