It is a story as old as time itself. Santa is an image synonymous with alcohol, swearing, dirty sex and swindling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oh wait, I may have got something wrong about that description. So too have Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the writers of Bad Santa.
Revitalising the genre, Bad Santa sees Billy Bob Thornton starring as Willie, a dangerously bitter, drunk and swearing department store Santa. Willie and his con artist dwarf friend Marcus (Tony Cox) team up together as a Santa and Elf and rob department stores on Christmas Eve. After a big successful swindle and a long break, Willie and Marcus team up again. On his last wobbly, drunken legs, Willie manages to attract the attention of bartender Sue (Lauren Graham) who holds a rather questionable Santa fetish and an inquisitive child Thurston (Brett Kelly). An uncredited Cloris Leachman also appears as Thurston’s rich and senile grandmother (typecast much!)
Simply put, Willie is morally depraved. He is Mr. No Soul who yells “I’m on my fucking lunch break” to mothers and children who approach him while eating. He is also perhaps the only hypersexual Santa we have seen on film (well maybe not hypersexual, but it just seems the case due to the red Santa suit and all). Particular quotes that stay in the mind include: “You ain’t gonna shit right for a week” while having sex doggy style in a department store changing room; and the soulful advice Willie passes on to Thurston “Why don’t you wish in one hand, and shit in the other. See which one fills up first”.
The film also sees John Ritter’s final performance before his early and unexpected death. Ritter plays a familiar nincompoop, whose dim naiveties would be annoying if on anyone else. Ritter’s character gets the devious and sinister security chief Gin (Bernie Mac) to investigate Willie, which sees for a hilarious shared scene between the two.
Unconventional to the max, Bad Santa is almost the anti-Christmas film. However, it still has a strong potent Christmas message. While it may not be in traditional Hallmark G-rated style, it is still present. Due to the completely adorable Thurston and the affectionate Sue, Willie does have a predictable change of heart and caves into the seasonal spirit, finally doing good.
Though criminally and morally nefarious, Willie has a lukewarm heart and his redemption is painfully funny to witness, especially as he gets shot down on Thurston’s doorstop to the shocked gasps and horrified screams of the neighbouring children.
Bad Santa is bad, reckless fun in this black comedy directed by Terry Zwigoff and unsurprisingly produced by the Coen brothers. Billy Bob Thornton has never been more dry, crass and filthy and leads a strong supporting cast in this wonderfully distasteful and offensive Christmas film.
Bad Santa was released in Australia on 25 November 2004 through Sony Pictures.