Monday, December 13, 2010

Bad Santa (2003)

Starring: Bill Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly
Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Here is your Christmas movie. And it seems fitting that this "honor" goes to one of the more popular holiday favorites of recent years, 2003's "Bad Santa".

The movie stars Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Stokes, the definitive example of a bad department store Santa. He loves booze, he loves women, and he hates his life. He is also a crook. Along with his dwarf friend Marcus (Tony Cox) as "Santa's Little Helper," he goes around year after year working at different department stores as a Santa before breaking into them and skipping town. The problem with all this is that he ends up blowing everything he "earns" on sex, alcohol, and lottery tickets. So when he gets a call from Marcus about a possible scheme in Phoenix, he jumps at the opportunity.

While there, he runs into a host of interesting characters. First is a dumb but sweet-hearted kid named Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who's name is not revealed until very late in the film because Willie never bothers to learn it, instead referring to him as "kid". Treating him like every other human being he encounters, Willie berates him with an endless stream of insults and obscenities, but the blank-eyed Thurman seems immune to his criticisms and he eventually warms up to him. Willie also forms a relationship with a sexy bartender (Lauren Graham) who takes an interest in him because she has a thing for Santas. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like. However, she also finds him charming as a person...for some reason...and she and Thurman both help him turn his life around. He must also contend with the meek mall manager Bob Chipeska, played by John Ritter, who died before the film was released and whom it is dedicated to. Chipeska rightfully does not trust Willie, and secretly tries to dispose of him with the assistance of the store's tough head of security Gin Slagel, played by Bernie Mac (Jesus, the mortality rate the film's supporting cast is really low, isn't it?). However, Slagel has alternative motives for finding out about the scheme. Willie and Marcus must deal with this while the former also teaches Thurman about being tough, which concludes with Willie postponing his suicide attempt in order to physically attack a teenage bully. Nice guy.

This film is funny. Thornton has the appearance and the attitude of a guy who is at the bottom of the barrel and is the antagonist of all the qualities that he is supposed to represent as Saint Nicholas. At the same time, he manages to remain likable enough so that he does not become completely unsympathetic as a character, nor does it look entirely realistic when he inevitable becomes a nicer person as the movie progresses. The other characters are also amusing and there is also a lot of good back and forth banter between them, particularly between Thornton and Ritter, as well as Ritter and Mac.

Do I have any criticism for the film? Not a lot. I guess you can say that it is not really a sophisticated comedy; generally speaking, it really is Thornton getting drunk, yelling and swearing for almost two hours. That did not really bother me that much since I was more or less expecting that, though it did get a tad old after a while. The only other issues I had: some minor plot holes here and there and that the ending was also a little over-the-top.

All that being said, it was still a funny and enjoyable movie and I recommend it.