Bad Santa

December, 2003, Comedy

Directed by:Terry Zwigoff

Starring:Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, with John Ritter, and and Bernie Mac

A safe-cracking lush with a penchant for anal sex who moonlights as a department store Santa? An ethnic elf whose specialties include burglary and filing civil rights complaints? An overstuffed geek of a kid who still believes in Santa when his contemporaries are smoking on street corners? Yes, such is the world conceived by director Terry Zwigoff in this soaring paean to bad taste. Imagine There's Something About Mary on steroids…

Bill Bob Thornton plays Willie T. Stoke, an unapologetic scumbag who's both aware of and totally unconcerned with his consummate degeneracy. He rouses himself from boozy tedium each December to partner with Marcus, (Terry Coe) an African-America dwarf who serves as a Santa's helper in the department store he's selected to rob that year. The planning and design work belong strictly to Marcus; Stoke's is brought along strictly to take a shot at the safe. But Stoke's rampant appetites are such that he manages to insult nearly everyone he meets with behavior so boorish Marcus lives in fear their cover will be blown before the door of the safe can be. 

Casually rejecting each and every social convention adults are saddled with and wprepared to pick fights to prove it, Stokes wearily endures a parade of kids onto his lap, completely insensitive to their innocently earnest pleas for Christmas gifts. Yet one such annoyance, a hapless, carrot-topped, overweight loser who's convinced, against all the available evidence, that Stoke really is Santa provides Willie the opportunity for housebreaking, grand theft auto and assorted sexual escapades with a barmaid whose carnal "thing" for Santas is as pleasantly unassuming as her disposition. 


Will Stokes break the kid's heart with the truth? Will Marcus double cross his unstable partner? Will Willie's manic behavior go completely unpunished? Will his references to buggery provoke astonished laughter from the audience? And will the Christmas season in America at last be exposed as the rampantly commercialized shopping orgy we've turned it into? The answers are-- yes, yes, yes, yes and definitely yes.

Sitting through this exercise in vulgarity is a bit like observing someone repeatedly breaking wind at a funeral--you know it's in dreadfully bad taste, and therefore what your proper reaction should be--but despite a lifetime of ingrained indoctrination, you simply can't stop laughing. The quirky aspects of Thornton's off-screen life, (weird marriages, a phobia about antiques) provide the perfect springboard for his Willie Stoke; the visceral reaction to his performance corresponds perfectly to what the audience expects.

Bad Santa has the good sense to be as deliberately sloppy as Willie & Company should be; the overall effect is that of an outrageously offensive locker-room joke, brilliantly told. One's reaction would make for an interesting extension of the Rorschach test.

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