Bad Santa is an unredeemable comedy that finds humor in the most reprehensible, morally corrupt, and disturbed side of Christmas without blinking once. Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is an absolute, unforgivable wreck who, even in some sort of weird redemption is still at best a sick sort of bad. Rarely has any comedy gone so far into being just plain wrong and come out with such big laughs.
Directy by Terry Zwigoff, whose last film was the amazing indie Ghost World, Bad Santa is in fact barely a Christmas movie at all. Granted, the main character wears a Santa suit and lets little kids on his lap at the mall. But he also pees in his costume and enjoys the company of overweight women on his afternoon break. In point of fact, the only reason Willie shows up in that Santa suit at all is because his diminutive partner Marcus (Tony Cox) has devised a brilliant way for them to rip shopping malls off. Lacking initiative or pesky morals, Willie is only too happy to go along. A miserable loser, he spends his life drowning in booze and doing just about any horrible thing he can to tide him over until Marcus calls him for this year’s pilfering.
This year’s heist lands the pair of criminals in a mall run by a pushover (John Ritter shining bright in his last role). However, things go a little differently than normal. Thurman is an overweight eight year old who can only be described as a dork. Not the smart kind mind you, just the kind who looks pathetic and gets frequent wedgies. He lives alone with his senile Grandma and when he shows up on Willie’s lap, Willie figures his house as a perfect place to hide out while he and Marcus plan their break-in at John Ritter’s mall.
Thurman (Brett Kelly) is grasping for something to hold on to and instantly buys into Willie being the real Santa. He’s only too happy to bring him into his home, even if Willie has sex in his Grandma’s hot tub, passes out drunk on his floor, or humps the woman he tells Thurman is “Santa’s sister” (Lauren Graham as a woman with a Santa fetish).
This is a mean-spirited movie intentionally designed to shock the pants off you. In this case that’s not a criticism. It works to create an unforgivably funny film that you’ll probably feel guilty for going nuts over. Billy Bob is so convincing as our scumbag uh… anti-hero that you’ve got to wonder where inside himself he found this scumbag freako. Tony Cox proves that there still are dwarfs out there who can actually act (and give you mountains of attitude to boot) and Brett Kelly is one helluva big fat dork
Bad Santa never flinches nor compromises into making things all warm and fuzzy as does just about any other film when a kid is involved. It lives up to its name and has no compunctions when it comes to being truly bad. You’ve got to admire a film so comfortable with being flat out revolting.
If you’re looking for Christmas cheer, go watch Will Ferrell knock your socks off in the hilarious, soon to be classicElf. If you’re looking for a howling comedy that’ll lead you down a path into deranged, despairing darkness; then Bad Santa might just be the refreshing bag of dirt for you.