Bad Santa (2003)

Posted: December 24, 2013 in Movie Review
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Bad Santa (2003)

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, John Ritter, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom

2003 was the year of the gift that kept on giving. I went to the theater more times that year than any other before or since, somewhere in the vicinity of 30 times. Naturally, the summer accounted for a good portion of that, but December was also a major contributor. My favorite 2003 film is unquestionably “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” but aside from the final chapter of one of the all-time great trilogies there was a Christmas-themed comedy called “Bad Santa.” I was on the fence about seeing it theatrically, but word of mouth convinced me. One of my absolute favorite Christmas movies, I laugh myself silly every time I see it.

Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is a foul-mouthed con man who drinks himself into unconsciousness, has sex with every woman he meets, and can crack any safe he comes across. He uses that last skill in the long-running scheme he has been pulling off in multiple cities, which would be very rewarding if he didn’t blow all the money on booze and women. Together with his partner in crime, Marcus (Tony Cox), the two pair up as a mall Santa and elf every December as a cover for their true intentions. In Phoenix, Arizona, Willie meets two people who will change his outlook on life: the pudgy, innocent Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), and barmaid Sue (Lauren Graham).

This is one of those comedies that seems tailor-made for its star. Billy Bob Thornton creates a realistic character that you can love or hate, laugh at what comes out of his mouth or be appalled by it. Willie drinks so much before going on the job at the mall that he winds up urinating in his red and white pants by the end of the day. Once, just before passing out, he eats all the chocolates out of Thurman’s advent calendar, only to regret it in the morning. He steals cars, money, and probably the virginity of a few willing young ladies as well. Thornton hooks his audience with Willie’s opening monologue, telling us how crappy his life is and how much contempt he has for his father. It is that relationship that has shaped who he is, and because of how badly he was treated by his old man, he sees an opportunity to exorcise personal demons by helping Thurman stand up for himself. Most of the laughs come from Thornton acting like a jackass, swearing, and falling down drunk, but the heart of the movie is Willie’s friendship with Thurman.

You have your classic Christmas movies like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Christmas Story,” a movie which has its own 24-hour marathon every December 25th. You can keep ’em. I tend to lean more towards action, horror, and/or irreverent comedy than feel-good family films. Filled with laugh-out-loud moments, an uncredited supporting role for Cloris Leachman, all the Christmas songs you can think of, not to mention “Once Upon a Dream” from “Sleeping Beauty” and sharing in common selections from “Carmen” with “The Bad News Bears” (a movie which was remade in 2005 with Thornton as the star), “Bad Santa” is much more my speed.


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