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BAD SANTA
Director's Cut

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Brett Kelly, Laruen Tom, Bernie Mac, John Ritter
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Dimension
Features: See Review
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: October 10, 2006

“Your beard's not real.”

“No sh*t! It was real, but I got sick and all the hair fell out.”

“How come?”

“I loved a woman who wasn't clean.”

“Mrs. Santa?”

“No it was her sister.”

Film ***

For every overly cheerful holiday film that comes along every Christmas, there was bound to be an “anti-holiday” movie sooner or later. In 2003, we got it in the form of the deliriously funny Bad Santa. If you were always tired of the same old, clichéd feel good Christmas movie, then this one was made just for you.

The Santa in the film is indeed a Bad one, so much to the point that you won’t think of the jolly old figure in the same light again. He is a depressed, alcoholic safecracker named Willie played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton. Trust me when I say that this is one role no other actor could’ve pulled it off the way Thornton has done it.

Willie, along with his pint-sized partner Marcus (Tony Cox) have enjoyed an eight year job of hitting shopping malls every Christmas, disguised as Santa and an elf helper, with the intention of robbing each work site. And although Willie is a very good thief, his addiction to alcohol and sex with females in dressing rooms is making Marcus more than fed up. If anything, that will ruin their low profile.

Willie’s etiquette doesn’t sit quite well with the mall manager (John Ritter, in his final film performance). After overhearing an intimate session with Willie and a female in a dressing room of the Plus-size department, he assigns the mall’s chief of security, Gin (Bernie Mac), to keep a close watch of Willie and Marcus. By this point, Marcus can’t believe the unwarranted heat that Willie has generated.

Two people also manage to enter Willie’s life, and not at his request. The first is a lively bartender named Sue (Lauren Graham) who seems to be sexually attracted to anything relating to Santa Claus. Thus, the two start a sexual affair.

The second is a lonely boy named Thurman Murman (Brett Kelly) whose life is such a wreck that he just wants something to believe in. He then comes to believe that Willie IS the actual Santa Claus. For Willie, he is simply a leech that won’t go away.

At this point, you’d expect Willie to have a change of heart after the affection that Sue and Thurman have shown, but Bad Santa doesn’t even begin to compromise its vulgar values for a second. Willie remains a vile and unlikable individual for most of the movie. In fact, his drunken antics only seem to worsen as the film progresses.

And matters only get worse when Gin, the security chief, gets word of Willie and Marcus’ plan to rob the mall. He wants a cut of the money, or else he’ll have them arrested on the spot. This unwanted partnership results in one of the funniest scenes ever when Willie, drunk beyond words, starts kicking a store reindeer in front of kids waiting to see Santa. The following dialogue between Gin and Marcus will have you on the floor with laughter.

Directed by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World, Art School Confidential), Bad Santa has earned its reputation has the most “anti-holiday” film to hit the mainstream. However, if you really want the ultimate anti-holiday movie then you should seek out The Ice Harvest, also starring Thornton. That film definitely gives Bad Santa a run for its money.

Still, this movie is still quite an extreme hoot. Billy Bob Thornton turns in a one of a kind performance that only he could deliver. The rest of the cast is all game here too, especially Tony Cox as Willie’s fed up partner in crime, Bernie Mac as the uptight Gin, and John Ritter with his final film performance demonstrates what a genuine joy he was to watch.

If the holidays have got you feeling the opposite of what you should be feeling, then Bad Santa is definitely the top yuletide anti-dote.

Video ***1/2

The anamorphic presentation, courtesy of Dimension, is definitely top quality. The image quality is thoroughly clear and crisp; save for maybe a dark lit scene or two. The colors are especially nicely handled.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is a good enough listen for basically a dialogue-oriented comedy. Music playback is heard terrifically well, and dialogue delivery is as clear as can be.

Features ***

Included on this newly released Director’s Cut of the movie is a commentary track with director Terry Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman. Also featured are Deleted and Alternate Scenes, an Outtake reel, and a behind the scenes featurette.

Summary:

Bad Santa is at least one of the most anti-holiday movies you will ever come across. It is memorably obscene and extreme for a Christmas-themed movie, and that’s what should be appreciated about it first and foremost. Have a jolly old bizarre time!

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