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Dimension Films presents
"You people are monsters."
DVD ReviewIf you just love trimming the tree and the smell of freshly cut pine in the family room, if you adore those cute carolers and give them each a mug of cocoa, if you need a little Christmas right this very minute, stay far, far away from this movie. For the rest of us, though, Bad Santa is almost a call to arms, the polar opposite of It's a Wonderful Life—it will be a family favorite only if everyone in your family is alcoholic, dysfunctional, brimming with rage and spewing a Tourette's-like torrent of profanity. It's a riot, really, a holiday movie in which nothing is sacred, and just crammed with stuff that's hilarious and in fantastically bad taste.
Billy Bob Thornton is the title character, more or less—Willie is the worst department-store Santa imaginable, swilling rotgut liquor and grabbing a drag on a smoke between swearing at the bright-eyed, soon-to-be-disillusioned children who have queued up for a chance to have their photo taken on Santa's lap. But this job is only the most pathetic cover for him—he and Marcus (Tony Cox), his sidekick elf, have their annual scheme worked out: they get work at a mall, spend the holiday season casing the joint, and then on Christmas Eve rip off the place, with Marcus grabbing all the loot he can from the store displays as Willie cracks the safe. This year's mark is in Phoenix, and some of the images alone are priceless—seeing Santa with a butt and a pint with a corrupt dwarf on the sweltering Arizona tarmac as Dean Martin sings carols on the soundtrack is the appropriate revenge for all the God-bless-us-every-one drivel we've been forced to stomach for generations.
Director Terry Zwigoff is relentless in finding the comedy and in making no apologies, and his movie runs like the wind. Thornton is kind of spectacular as Willie—he's almost irredeemably loathsome, and the casual way with which he violates every possible rule of propriety is a hoot. Cox is great too—he's the brains of the operation, angrily presiding as his Santa gets, amazingly enough, even more sloppy, urinating in the red suit, cursing out and slugging papier maché donkeys in the manger, nearly blowing the whole gig. Little people like Cox are almost always used only as sight gags, and you can sense him reveling in getting a proper part to play. The late John Ritter, such a great foil for Thornton in Sling Blade, is neurotically funny as a mall manager in way over his head, and Bernie Mac is on fire as the head of mall security who gets wise to their plan.
Bizarrely touching and quite surprising is Willie's relationship with a kid in the neighborhood, played by Brett Kelly—he's overweight and frequently gets beat up, he retains his child's belief in Santa, and he seems almost borderline autistic in taking everything at unblinking face value. Willie crashes out at the kid's house, and Zwigoff never even gets close to sentimentality, but it's a dimension of Willie's character that we might not have thought possible. Always good for a laugh is Cloris Leachman as the kid's stone-deaf grandmother, and Lauren Graham is a pip as a bartender with a thing for a guy in a Santa suit.
The score makes use not just of Christmas carols to provide counterpoint, as you might expect, but also of familiar arias from Carmen, and watching this movie now it's hard not to think of the next project for the leading man and the screenwriting team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, their Bad News Bears remake. A dollop of the Christmas spirit might creep in toward the very end, but it's soon eradicated, as well it should be in a movie of this sort. It's not one for roasting marshmallows and curling up with the family, but any holiday hostility you may harbor will be vastly rewarded by this movie.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Occasional discolorations mar the transfer, but overall the presentation looks pretty reasonable.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: A little overmixed on the 5.1 track, and occasionally the carols are cranked up for a little too much counterpoint; but you'll be able to discern every last four-letter word.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Keeping Up with the Steins, Lost: The Complete Second Season, Kinky Boots
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Terry Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman
The best of the four deleted scenes features Sarah Silverman as a Santa trainer; also very funny are Thornton's improvs with the actor playing a mall security guard shaking down Santa for shoplifting. A behind-the-scenes piece (09m:29s) is pretty ordinary stuff, including interviews with cast members, Zwigoff, and the film's producers—most notable is a tribute to Ritter. And the outtakes (04m:00s) are little more than actors cracking up or forgetting their lines.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAn unholy riot of a holiday picture, the movie closest to capturing the spirit of David Sedaris's lunatic Santaland Diaries. If you're worried about people taking the Christ out of Christmas, you won't even make it through the opening credits, but for those of us less pious, it's highly recommended.
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