US Release Date: 11-26-2003
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
- Billy Bob Thornton, as
- Tony Cox, as
- Brett Kelly, as
- The Kid
- Lauren Graham, as
- Lauren Tom, as
- Bernie Mac, as
- John Ritter, as
- Bob Chipeska
- Cloris Leachman, as
- Ajay Naidu, as
- Hindustani Troublemaker
- Octavia Spencer as
Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox in Bad Santa.
You have to give Bad Santa credit for being such a dark comedy about such a bright subject, Christmas. I laughed out loud when one child asks Billy Bob Thornton, dressed as Santa, for a particular toy and Santa responds to the kid; "What the fuck is that?" This is definitely an adult Christmas movie!
Thornton plays Willie, a drunken safe cracker. Every year he, and a midget friend, pretends to be a store Santa and elf. On Christmas Eve, after everyone has left the store, they rob the place. One Christmas, Willie meets an annoying little boy who happens to live in a very nice home with a senile grandmother. Willie moves in and is soon making like the kid's dad, or at least a partying uncle.
Thornton cusses in every other line. The best moments come from him playing Santa as all of these kids want to tell him what they want for Christmas. He is rude to all of them. "I said, "Next," goddamn it! This is not the DMV!" He yells to the line of kids when it is not going fast enough.
The entire punch line of the movie is that Willie has to put up with a month of kids sitting on his lap just so he can be in the store on Christmas Eve to rob it. He hates playing Santa a lot. Or as he puts it, "I've seen some pretty shitty situations in my life, but nothing has ever sucked more ass than this!"
Thornton is hysterical as the foul-mouthed drunk. His delivery is sincere and unapologetic. Even when he develops some affection for a particular child, he still never softens his personality. To help the kid out with some bullies he attempts to teach him how to box. When that does not work, he takes matter into his own hands. Or as he would explain, "I beat the shit out of some kids today, but it was for a purpose."
Bad Santa is dark and funny. The ending almost gets hokey, but is saved by the fact that Willie remains his obnoxious drunken self through it all. He learns to actually have feelings for another person but it does not change who he is.
Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox in Bad Santa.
According to imdb.com, the word "fuck" and its variations are used 159 times in this movie, while the term "shit" appears 73 times with a total of approximately 300 profanities in all. Considering the movie only runs about 90 minutes, that's roughly 3 swear words per minute. While that might seem like an excess of foul language, there's something about the cumulative effect of repeated swearing, accompanied by Thornton and Cox's delivery that turns it into comedy gold. As Eric wrote, this isn't a kid's Christmas movie.
Reportedly, both Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray were interested in starring in this film, but were unable to due to prior commitments. That they were too busy to appear in it was actually fortuitous. Thornton is not only perfect in the lead, but both Nicholson and Murray seem a little too old for the part, even 10 years ago. Nicholson could have played it in the 1980s and Murray in the 1990s, but Thornton was the perfect actor at just the right time, although perhaps his performance was aided by the fact that he later claimed to be really intoxicated during filming. There's just something inherently funny about him behaving inappropriately in front of children. He would try to replicate the formula in the 2005 remake of Bad News Bears, with some success. His line delivery is perfect as he spouts lines like, "Why don't you wish in one hand, and shit in the other. See which one fills up first."
The supporting cast is also terrific. Tony Cox as Marcus his diminutive partner in crime makes the perfect foil to Thornton's foul mouthed Santa. They're a hilarious double-act as they trade profanities while trying to maintain the pretense that they're suitable to be around children.
Brett Kelly as the wide-eyed Kid is equally good at giving Thornton someone to respond to. This exchange between the two of them, which doesn't read as all that funny, always makes me laugh because of their performances and timing.
Kid: What's the North Pole like?
Willie: It's like a suburb.
Kid: Which suburb?
Willie: Apache Junction. What the fuck do you care? Now get off my lap you sit there like a fuckin retard.
In smaller roles are two comedians who are sadly no longer with us. John Ritter plays the befuddled mall manager in what would be his last film role and the movie is dedicated to him. He has several amusing scenes where he tries to cope with Willie and Marcus while remaining politically correct. The other comedian is Bernie Mac who plays the more streetwise head of security who wants a piece of the action. His best moments come when he spars verbally with Marcus.
In the end though, this is Thornton's movie and he carries it effortlessly. He takes a funny script filled with quotable dialogue and makes it even funnier. Although definitely not a film for the whole family, Bad Santa remains a Christmas classic.
Billy Bob Thornton, Brett Kelly, and Tony Cox in Bad Santa.
Bad Santa is the perfect antidote for anyone in danger of overdosing on holiday cheer. If the thought of hearing Mariah Carey sing “All I Want for Christmas is You” one more time makes you wake up in a cold sweat then Bad Santa is for you. It's a dark and raunchy anti-Christmas movie that somehow slyly manages to squeeze in a bit of heart without losing any of its ability to be hilariously offensive.
This is the role Billy Bob Thornton was born to play, but as my brothers wrote, the entire cast is terrific even down to the tiniest parts. Neither of them mentioned Cloris Leachman in a small role as the Kid's senile grandmother. She's underused but still manages to generate a few laughs. Her best moment is when Willie and Sue think she's dead only to have her wake up suddenly and offer to make them sandwiches. And Ajay Naidu's scene is funny as hell. He accosts Santa on the street, pinning Willie up against the hood of his car and humping him while saying, “Elf fucker! Motherfucker. Elf fucker! Who's the bitch now, Santy Claus? Faggy Claus!”
If you don't think that's amusing then be advised to stay far away from Bad Santa. If, however, you are just enough of a Grinch to find that hilarious then this is the movie for you. The dirty, vulgar, disgusting jokes just keep coming at such a rapid pace that you'll likely need several viewings to catch them all. I watched the movie twice and found it just as obscenely funny the second time around.
My favorite dialogue exchange in the movie is when Marcus complains to Willie that he gets worse every year, “More booze, more bullshit, more butt-fucking.” Unfazed Willie simply replies, “Sure, the 3 Bs.” In the vernacular of Bad Santa, “Merry Fucking Christmas!”
Photos © Copyright Dimension Films (2003)