BAD SANTA, 2003
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, Fred Ritter and Lauren Graham
Willie T. Stokes, a washed-up, wise-cracking Department Store Santa who can't help but be more naughty than nice. Underneath his ill-fitting red suit, Willie is actually a safecracker who makes one big score every year – on Christmas Eve. As shoppers head home from the mall, this Santa and his ingenious Elf – Willie's midget partner-incrime Marcus (TONY COX) – crack the store safe and make off with their own holiday stash. But then comes Phoenix. Here Santa and his Elf find their annual heist endangered by a pesky store manager (JOHN RITTER), a savvy mall detective (BERNIE MAC), a sexy Santa fan (LAUREN GRAHAM) and an innocent but beleaguered 8 year-old misfit (BRETT KELLY) who decides to believe that Willie – as intoxicated, acid-tongued and felonious as he seems to be -- is the real Santa he's been seeking.
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A dark comedy about the underside of Christmas. It’s films like these that believe creativity, originality, difference and cynicism can survive in Hollywood. Hell, not only survive but kick ass. Bad Santa is the movie for every Scrooge and every Grinch that really couldn’t care less about the chipper people in the holiday. The reason it works so well is that every person realizes this at one point or another. There is some dark hatred in every one of us that makes me think people are complete idiots and Christmas time is when some people amp up their stupidity or optimism….and for no real valid point really.
The Story: My one big nitpick of the film is that the structure is kind of like a jenga tower that’s missing a lot of pieces. You’re scratching your head as to how it’s still standing, but it is. That’s how I feel about the scene to scene workings of this film. Not only that, but some scenes drag on a bit too long. In fact the movie itself drags a bit. This would be alright if the comedy didn’t have some repeated jokes that play no relevance to the overall plot (as him pissing himself.) Sure, they’re funny once or twice on a call back but after a while you’re waiting for something else to get a dig. And then there are some very overused jokes from films in general (“What do you mean YOU people?” --- etc). But in it’s essence, there are more original and hilarious jokes than there are hackneyed ones.
Acting: Billy Bob Thornton shines. I’m not sure how he does it, but he’s actually a pretty talented actor. He doesn’t fit that bill of a real “artsy” deep rooted in his work type of actor, but those are the kind of performances he delivers. Tony Cox does a great job of playing more than a stereotype. He’s actually my favorite person in the movie aside from Billy Bob (can’t believe I actually have a movie reviewed with that name as an actor – but hey, who am I to judge?) John Ritter is annoying without being annoying, Bernie Mac isn’t so fun…or the threatening villain he tried to portray. Lastly, Brett Kelly does a good job of being the weird annoying fat kid. Yes, it rides on my nerves at times, but I guess that’s what he was supposed to do.
Directing: Terry Zwigoff isn’t a director I hear a lot of. In fact he’s only made 4 movies in his career. And they all seem to have the same problem – pacing. But overall they deliver on what they’re trying to. I can settle for the problems in the film because of it’s bold and original take on holiday feelings. That alone was worth him getting praise. And yes, it does outweigh any negativity I may have.
Cinematography: There’s a very saturated look to everything. Strong maroon reds and dark pine type greens. And dark golds as well. All of it play a role in taking the sentimentality out of the actual holiday. Yes it’s there, and yes it’s enchanting to look at. But it doesn’t do much to glorify the feelings of the holiday. Granted, it’s not dirty or scratched up. In fact, it’s quite polished. The reason? It creates a visual contrast between the characters and the world around them. Great work.
Production Design: Like I said above, it’s very polished and clean. Done in the attempt of creating the world we all know and try to love, but it’s darkened (in color) and contrasts strongly against the people around it.
Editing: Again, pacing and “draggyness.” The movie could have been a little tighter here. Now, no one but the film makers know what goes on on-set or in the editing room – but there had to have been alternate takes from production. There just had to be. Why they chose to replay the same jokes in the movie without a different pay off is beyond me. Either way, this is where the movie starts tripping. – I should stress though, I’m referring to “Badder Santa” which is the unrated extended cut and they tend to be a lot more “draggy.”
Score: Is there a score? I didn’t even notice. Sure there’s some Christmas music playing, but again, it’s done in spite of it’s characters to create a cynical contrast between them and their world. Well, that or they make things funnier through the irony of the music over some of the darker comedy.
In closing: Bad Santa is clearly a movie made for adults. If you’re the type of person who never drops their smile 365 days a year the movie is clearly not for you. This is a movie for real people who stop and realize that trees decorated with lights, snow on the ground and packed shopping malls shouldn’t be making you happy. But rather using your own moral compass to do what you think is right…..in your own way that is. Haha. Billy Bob doesn’t exactly portray the most upstanding of citizens – but the point is that he does have some morality beneath it all. Every happy person has a dark side and every cynic has a moral compass. What happens when either leans towards their inner workings is always hilarious.