** (out of 5)
November 26, 2003
Billy Bob Thornton as WILLIE
Tony Cox as MARCUS
Brett Kelly as THE KID
Lauren Graham as SUE
Bernie Mac as GIN
John Ritter as BOB CHIPESKA
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
BY KEVIN CARR
“Bad Santa” was made with the Scrooges of the world in mind. Generally, if you love Christmas, this isn’t going to be your cup of tea. But if you hate the Yuletide season, you’re part of the target audience.
I happen to be one of those odd people that likes both ends of the spectrum. I love “It’s a Wonderful Life” and all the spirit it embodies. On the other hand, I loved the “Married With Children” highly cynical “It’s a Bundyful Life” as well as the “Black Adder Christmas Carol” which sees a kindly Black Adder turned into a Scrooge by the end of the film.
I was actually looking forward to “Bad Santa.” And when the credits rolled and I saw the Cohen Brothers and Terry Zwigoff’s names in the credits, I was even more excited. Watching Billy Bob Thornton throwing up in the gutter under the title “Bad Santa” at the beginning of the movie was a great start, but from that point on, the movie just fell flat.
As far as the weak story goes, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (Tony Cox) are a Santa-and-Elf team who make a good living ripping off shopping malls as the Christmas season comes to a head. Marcus, a dwarf who plays the elf, is the brains behind the operation. Willie is just a stinking drunk, but he can crack a safe, so that’s why Marcus keeps him around.
Willie and Marcus take a new job in Arizona, but this last time around Willie starts to have a change of heart – sort of. After his motel room is raided by the police, he ends staying with a fat Kid (Brett Kelly) who is abused at school and lives at home with his senile grandmother. The Kid isn’t that smart and really believes Willie is Santa, which is why he allows him to stay at his house. (My word, it’s amazing what a red suit can do for a scrawny, beardless redneck from Arkansas.)
Also into the picture comes Sue (Lauren Graham in a very un”Gilmore Girls” role), a beautiful bartender who is a raging alcoholic with a sexual Santa fetish. She hooks up with Willie for the Santa suit and the drinking potential, and she also becomes a bit of a surrogate mother to the Kid.
Lauren Graham was cute as can be in this film (too cute in many ways), but it was such a hard act to swallow. I mean, have you seen Billy Bob Thornton? Steve Buscemi has more sex appeal than this man, for crying out loud. Now, I know Thornton has been married multiple times – most notably to Hollywood hottie Angelina Jolie – but the man is just revolting. Maybe in real life, he can pull this off with a charming personality, but the character of Willie is completely, utterly and totally repulsive. I’d rather walk in on my parents than think about him having sex. Yet somehow, he’s able to get a catch like Lauren Graham. Puh-lease!
While “Bad Santa” doesn’t really pull it’s punches with the subject matter, it actually pulled its punch with the story in general. Willie is such a hateful character, yet the filmmakers try a lame redemption story.
“Bad Santa” is known for being John Ritter’s final film. While I feel Ritter deserved a better swan song, his part is the funniest thing in there. If only there was more of him to work with, but he hands the reigns over to Bernie Mac too quickly and just disappears from the film entirely by the third act. Bernie Mac wasn’t bad in the film. (Actually, Mac has been making quite a movie career out of being the saving grace of otherwise terrible films like “Head of State” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.”)
Tony Cox is a great comedic actor, which I saw immediately in his part as the Mensa homewrecker from “Me, Myself and Irene,” and he does shine in this film. His chemistry with Mac is great. If only they had focused more of the film on him and not the wretched Billy Bob character.
There are some nice gems in the film, especially when Willie gets a purpose in life and starts to care for – and protect – the Kid. But these moments are fleeting, and we’re left with a “hero” that wets himself, drinks before he gets out of bed and is abusive to everyone he comes into contact with. Maybe the portrayal was too real. I just didn’t find it fun.