Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2003
Directed by
Terry Zwigoff
93 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
3 stars

Bad Santa

Synopsis: Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) and his 'little person' elf (Tony Cox) are, in fact, foul-mouthed safe-crackers whose disguise allows them to case department stores for several days before robbing them. The plot thickens when Santa meets Santa-fetishist Sue (Lauren Graham), an over-zealous security boss (Bernie Mac), a manager with delicate sensitivities (John Ritter) and a strange little boy (Bret Kelly). Be ready for lashings of uncensored Southpark-like humour.

Zwigoff proves himself nothing if not versatile in following up the insightful coming-of-age story of Ghost World with a bad-taste Father Christmas black comedy. There's little subtlety about this latest effort. Unless having your brain smashed out with a slice of lemon, wrapped around a large brick, could be considered subtle. This Santa is something like taking Billy Bob Thornton's character from Bandits, adding sex/alcohol addictions, riddling his dialogue with expletives, and hoping you end up with something like a live-action Southpark episode.

Bad Santa seems largely targeted to devotees of American butt-jokes and the like, with a anti-consumer, anti-normality message for the art-house crowd. Yet the film's language was heavily edited in its mainstream American release. If you watch its American trailer, you'll hardly recognize it as a preview of the film screening here. It's ironic that something fine-tuned for the American sense of humour is most widely available outside the good ol' conservative US of A. For the record, someone on the internet with too much time on their hands has recorded that the film has 170 'fucks', 74 'shits', 31 'arses', 10 'bitches, yet only 1 'bastard' in various permutations. Only about 50-75% of them are funny, which makes the rest kinda tedious.

Outcry about Bad Santa may have added to the wedge between Disney's leaders and the Weinstein brothers, who run Disney's Miramax subsidiary with Disney executives reported to be 'totally horrified' at the first screening. I mean, Santa having anal sex in the change-rooms near the lines of children at his department store grotto would rattle anyone, even without the "By the time I've finished, you won't shit right for a week" line. I was kind of distracted by the little old lady sitting in my row at the cinema, and wondering what she was thinking. I was also wondering whether Zwigoff's film about the perverse world of cartoonist Robert Crumb inspired this particular vision.

Bill Murray was interested in playing Santa, but (wisely) did Lost In Translation instead. Thornton is a good comic actor with some great timing and delivery, but Bad Santa would probably have succeeded far better with a satirical emphasis, some smarter ideas, and Murray's lighter touch. Still, it has some inspired touches, like Bernie Mac's ability to eat an orange very amusingly. The Kid's wide-eyed innocence also works. When Santa, The Kid, and the Midget face off in the boxing ring I had tears of laughter rolling down my aching cheeks. And Lauren Graham adds some sexy warmth to an otherwise often callously-ugly black comedy.

Let's face it, shit happens when you party naked.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst