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"Bad Santa"

Directed by Terry Zwigoff ("Ghost World").
Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, and Bernie Mac.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  12/2/03


"Bad Santa" is one of those pleasant surprises that can arise from a truly crowded fall movie season.  I go to the movies all the time, and I never saw a poster for "Bad Santa" in a theater, I didn't see a trailer for it until about a month before its release, I didn't hear about the film in the trades, I didn't see any buzz on it over the Internet.

But, in the last two weeks, ads for the film have been running during football games nonstop.  On Fox, which airs "The Bernie Mac Show", ads have been popping up everywhere to take advantage of co-star Bernie Mac's presence in the film.  And, just like the trailer, "Bad Santa" is funny as hell, and believe the press that proclaims it one of the funniest ADULT comedies to come along in quite a while.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Santa, a boozing, fornicating bastard of a man that, along with his pint-sized partner (Tony Cox), has a scam running every Christmas as Santa and his little elf.  They hit malls in various cities, and work as the mall Santa for all of December, and just before Christmas, they rob the safe in the department store they work in and hightail it out of town until the next Christmas comes around.  This year, they hit a mall in Phoenix and work there for a time, but the manager of the department store (John Ritter) and the mall security chief (Bernie Mac) smell something fishy with the new Santa and try to figure out his evil gameplan.

The subplot in "Bad Santa" involves Santa's relationship to Thurman (Brett Kelly), and it is these scenes that make the film funny through and through, not just during the sequences in the mall, which by their nature are simply hilarious.  You expect to laugh as you watch Santa put a kid on his lap, curse at the child, and not care a lick as each young'un talks about how much he or she wants that new pony or new Barbie on Christmas Day.  But, when Thurman houses Santa while he is on the run from the law, you expect that Santa will stay with this kid, realize what a bastard he has been to Thurman, and reform himself to become an upstanding member of society.

No dice!  He's "Bad Santa", for chrissakes!  So, at every turn he treats the kid horribly, but because the kid doesn't seem to think Santa is so mean-spirited, Santa can't make the kid upset no matter what he says to him, and director Terry Zwigoff ("Ghost World") does a great job of giving us a truly pitiful kid but one that doesn't drag the film down into sappy emotional father-son drama.

I can't really convey to you how bad the language is in "Bad Santa", except to say that it's pervasive and adult.  Rarely do anal sex jokes make the cut in studio films like this one, but there are a half-dozen in "Bad Santa" that might make you cringe.  I think only "Casino" has more uses of the f-word.  But, this is perfect for painting the picture of how truly evil the Santa character is; you just don't think he can get any worse, and then there he is, fooling around with a fat woman in the Big and Tall section of the store before pissing himself and yelling at a child in the mall cafeteria.  Thornton won't win any awards for this role, but he is convincing as the worst Santa of all time.  The support by Mac, Cox and Ritter is minimal but it is quite funny throughout; the performance by the kid Kelly is the best in the movie.

I didn't love the ending and the love interest played by Lauren Graham isn't too interesting, either.  But, if you love anger, profanity, and evil, "Bad Santa" is solid stuff.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09