review by KJ
Doughton, 21 November 2003
Santa is a rank, lumpy skidmark smeared across the underwear of
filmmakers who should know better. With Crumb
director Terry Zwigoff teaming up with producers Joel and Ethan
Coen, expectations of a quirky, cerebral comedy classic are high.
Throw Billy Bob Thornton into this subversive stew as an
alcoholic Saint Nick who makes the Grinch look like Fred Rogers, and
Bad Santa becomes even
more promising. Instead
of providing a new spin on holiday cheer, however, Bad
Santa is a frozen pile of reindeer droppings. The cinematic
equivalent to passing a kidney stone, Zwigoff’s unholy foray into "dark
comedy" gives us a suicidal, sociopathic drunk slinging swear words
with a ferocity that would make Tony Montana wince.
Stokes (Thornton) is a sloshed department store Santa who entertains
children while their parents indulge in holiday sales. The fact that
Willie urinates on the North Pole props that surround his Santa
chair, throws whiskey bottles through car windows in the parking
lot, and shags women in the store’s clothing department dressing
rooms are only the tip of a vile iceberg.
Assisted by an elf-costumed dwarf named Marcus (Tony Cox),
Willie cases out the stores that employ him, then robs their safes
and merchandise after-hours.
begins its morbid sleigh ride to Hell with the familiar image of an
urban, upscale watering hole decked out in trees and tinsel. Smiling
faces toast the Yuletide season. Upbeat energy fills Zwigoff’s
frame. This life affirming mood takes a quick nosedive, however, as
the camera pans across the bar to pickled scumbag Stokes, who is
surrounded by shot glasses and swallowed up by a moth-eaten Santa
suit three sizes too large. "Life sucks ass," proclaims this
then travel with Willie and Marcus to Phoenix, Arizona, the scene of
their next annual store theft.
Bad Santa staggers
into a kind of surreal fog when this haggard, stubble-faced
slimeball befriends a young obese boy. After presenting the creepy
Claus with a Christmas wish list, the Kid (Brett Kelly) invites this
grizzled waste case home with him. In a move straight out of
Neverland Ranch, Stokes takes up residence with the lad.
After realizing that this cherubic, curly-haired innocent
lives in a luxurious house with only an Alzheimer’s stricken
grandmother, Stokes thoughtfully robs the estate’s
greenback-filled safe. "Do you need money to fix your sleigh?" asks
the naïve moppet as this lowlife pillages the family fortune. "Exactly,"
confirms Thornton shamelessly as he lifts the loot.
get even creepier when Stokes hooks up with Sue, a slutty waitress
(Lauren Graham). "I’ve always had a thing for Santas," she hollers
in mid-coitus, insisting that Stokes leave his red and white suit on
during their intimate tryst. "I grew up Jewish, so it was always
kind of a forbidden thing." Yikes!
Eventually the frisky bar wench moves in with Stokes, junior,
and granny, completing a surrogate family that makes the porno clan
from Boogie Nights seem
like something off of Walton Mountain.
of Bob Goldthwait’s similarly hideous misfire Shakes the Clown might enjoy this lowbrow crawl through the gutter.
The script is grade Z Adam Sandler fare.
Supporting players, including the late John Ritter as a
spineless store manager and Bernie Mac as a scheming security chief,
wade through this predigested lark vomit like desperate sewer rats.
Tony Cox, playing Thornton’s pint-sized comrade in crime, conjures
up any real enthusiasm. During one of the film’s few truly funny
moments, Cox’s vertically-challenged character engages in a
drinking match with Stokes, only to get criticized by his blitzed
friend for not keeping up. "What do you expect," Cox responds
defiantly. "I only weigh ninety-two pounds!"
would Dimension Films, the Coens, Zwigoff, and Thornton be attracted
to Bad Santa? Perhaps Zwigoff, whose past onscreen misanthropes explained
their contempt for others through family dysfunction (Crumb) or rebellion against commercial culture (Ghost
World), felt that Stokes would fit into his gallery of
disenchanted fringe-dwellers. But I smell a quick, lucrative payday at the stinky bottom of
this career-squelching cinematic landfill.
might fill up the stockings of his slumming, back-end business
partners, but the rest for the rest of us, he’s as jolly as a trip
to detox on Christmas eve.
Billy Bob Thornton
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult