When holiday preparations are in full swing, people sometimes need a bit of background spirit to help those fun activities like wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, and eating your neighbor’s two year old fruit-cake (at least that’s how it looks, I don’t touch the stuff).
Most people would probably put on Bing Crosby’s Old Fashioned Christmas, Elvis Presley’s Xmas in Hawaii, or maybe Barbara Streisand’s I’m Doing It for the Money Xmas Album. I, on the other hand, don’t care for such albums. I only seem to enjoy the electronica version of “Carol of the Bells” and Christmas parody songs.
No, when it comes to Christmas spirit, I usually go to the DVD collection for my background noise. Some of these films are classics. Some are most definitely not (except in my own mind). Some of them stop me from wrapping presents and decorating so I can make some spiked hot chocolate and laugh my ass off. The one thing they all have in common is that they infect me with the Christmas spirit, for better or for worse.
When it comes to Christmas movies that kick wholesomeness in the face with a shit-encrusted boot, no film does it better than Bad Santa. Alcohol? Check. Smoking? Check. Santa beating up kids? Check. Anal sex? Double-heck. John Ritter? Check. This is the Christmas movie for people who don’t like Christmas movies, and may even make such people believers in the spirit of Christmas.
An alcoholic safe-cracker, Willie (played by Billy Bob Thornton, aka that nutter that got to bang Angelina Jolie), and a criminal mastermind dwarf, Marcus (played by Tony Cox, aka that little guy in the movie Friday), dress up as a mall Santa and his elf in order to rob a mall every year around Christmas. During a gig in Arizona, Willie meets a dim-witted kid, Thurman Merman, who shames him into becoming an off-center father figure in the kid’s life. Through his dealing with Thurman, Willie learns compassion and love in his own twisted way.
Criticized as a blemish on the idea of Christmas, Bad Santa is a generational Christmas movie, and will resound with generation Xers and Yers for years to come. It’s not A Miracle on 34th Street. It is what that movie would be today.
These days, who doesn’t know of someone who battles alcoholism, especially during the holidays? I know people who have lots of family to share the holidays with, and they can drink Willie the alcoholic Santa under the table. Willie is among the many who feel alone, and bury themselves in that misery at the end of the year for fear of remembering how alone they feel.
It is this idea that is expanded and then fixed in Bad Santa, and it is done hilariously. From a little fat kid sparring with a dwarf to Santa pissing himself while sitting on the “Santa throne” (or whatever that thing is called), Thornton and Cox do everything they can to drive the spirit of Christmas out of the movie, in order to better build it back up.
Maybe this is an attempt at sucking the commercialism out much like blood-letting. There is a touching scene that Thurman cuts his hand, and Willie pours alcohol on it to stop it from getting infected. Later on, Willie learns that Thurman cut his hand carving Willie a wooden pickle as a Christmas present. As absurd as Willie thinks a wooden pickle is, he realizes that it was a gift of love, and works to reciprocate that love in his own dysfunctional way. The final scene is tragically hilarious.
John Ritter and Bernie Mac also give great supporting performances as the mall manager and his chief of security. Sadly, this was Ritter’s last role before tumbling to his death while putting up Christmas lights, and Bernie Mac has passed away since then, too. However, Tony Cox and Billy Bob Thorton are still alive and well like Abe Vigoda, so there is no Santa curse going on with this movie.
I give Bad Santa 4 out of 5 Advent calendars.