In Brief: Over the next four weeks I’m going to post my four favorite Christmas movies. One of my favorites is Bad Santa. Billy Bob Thornton has never been better. It’s classically tasteless but a ton of fun.
In the next few weeks I’m going to review my four favorite Christmas movies. They will not be in any particular order. No doubt you’re wondering why four and not more. The reason is because I only have four favorites. Oh, and hint, hint, of the four, 1983’s A Christmas Story is not among them.
We start this week with Bad Santa.
This is Billy Bob Thornton’s best ever acting. Another absolute, no actor working back in 2003 could have pulled off the character. It’s the perfect vehicle for Thornton’s unique character acting skills.
And please, don’t confuse Bad Santa with Bad Santa 2. It’s as unfunny and as poorly done as the original.
Thornton is Willie and Tony Cox is Marcus. Every year they team up and play Santa and his best-buddy elf at a high end mall. Willie is one of the best safe crackers in the business and Marcus excels at getting them the job and casing the joint.
One big problem. Willie is also a raging alcoholic who is usually drunk on the job, tends to wet himself while sitting in Santa’s big chair and — worst of all — he hates kids.
Willie meets and then lives with the most pathetic kid character in any movie ever. He’s Thurman Merman. The particulars of the plot and how everything unwinds can be found an online synopsis.
Thornton’s Santa has zero redeeming personalty traits and is the most disgusting Santa in history. Brett Kelly’s kid has the same issue. While you like and feel sorry for the boy, he is also the most pathetic child in any movie you’ll ever see.
Bad Santa is also John Ritter’s last film. He’s quite pathetic as a timid mall manager not quite capable of coping with a sick and twisted Santa and his dwarf helper. I think it’s also the best Ritter ever was and his scenes are hilarious.
Also good is the work of Bernie Mac as the mall’s head of security and Lauren Graham who checks in as the lady the kid calls, Mrs. Santa’s sister.
Bad Santa is directed by Terry Swigoff (Ghost World) and is written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who penned the 2005 remake of Bad News Bears. Their second best film is the true-crime-based, I Love You Phillip Morris with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Ironically, it’s Carrey’s best acting ever, too.
It’s almost as good as this one and worth checking out if you can find it.
The studio originally screened Bad Santa a few days before Christmas in 2003. I sat in a theater with 15 other critics. Two of us laughed. And we laughed a lot. That ought to give you a clue as to whether this one is for you. This one is pretty disgusting in spots.
Make that funny disgusting but disgusting nonetheless.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Thornton in 2006 about a different movie. It wasn’t all that good and I kept coming back to this one. He liked that I liked his performance and that I understood Willie and that I found Bad Santa to be a pretty good holiday movie.
And it is a good one.
Ultimately, Bad Santa is about redemption and about doing the right thing. Thornton is a skilled character actor who can do everything from heavy drama to silly comedy and while this won’t be the right thing for everybody, it is one of four films that I catch every holiday season.
Director: Terry Swigoff
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Cloris Leachman
Rated R for lots of f-bombs and other off-colorful language, mature themes and lots of drinking. This one is a total blast from start to finish. Beware though, it’s not for everyone.
You can search for Bad Santa on streaming sites and can likely order it online from companies that sell DVDs.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.