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EntertainmentNutz Feature

Bad Santa

badsanta1.jpg (82804 bytes)Release Date: November 26, 2003
Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Screenwriter: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Terry Zwigoff, Arnie Marx
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Lauren Graham, John Ritter, Bernie Mac, Cloris Leachman, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, Ryan Pinkston (cameo)
Genre: Comedy, Crime
MPAA Rating:
R (for pervasive language, strong sexual content and some violence)

Plot Summary:
It is the height of the festive holiday season and merry shoppers have begun their yearly pilgrimages to their local malls. Among the drove is a pair of con men, on a decadent road trip as Santa and his elf. Rather than spreading good cheer, the duo's motive is to rob each establishment, a strategy that becomes complicated when they encounter a precocious 8-year old that teaches them the true meaning of Christmas

Review By Blake French:
- Almost phony baloney

There are two parts to a successful joke: the joke itself (if a joke is not funny, people will not laugh) and the execution (even the funniest joke can generate dry heaves if Ben Stein delivers it). Bad Santa does get the first half of the process correct, but it misses the latter. Itís easy to chuckle at an alcoholic, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, street-trash loser who poses as Santa Claus and sabotages department stores, but to laugh at the execution of the idea demands a certain degree of control.

With black comedies like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Rasising Arizona, the Coen brothers know the genre well. Bad Santa is the blackest comedy to evolve from their imaginations yet, though, this time, they are only responsible for the idea (they also served as executive producers), and mistakenly leave the screenwriting to John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, who do not demonstrate the necessary control. They donít understand that humor in a film like this requires some delicacy. They donít appear to even know the meaning of the word.

Bad Santa thinks itís funny to push the envelope and gather the most inappropriate, hideous taboos our culture has come to know and kick them in the balls. Sometimes, itís funny watching Santa explode; I laughed hard when an infant and his mother interrupt Santa during his lunch break. More often then not, however, itís just offensive. Example: if the idea of a drunken Santa Claus having rough anal sex with an obese prostitute doesnít disturb you, then the sight of it will.

Perhaps if Santa posed as a kind-hearted Claus while working department stores, and when he went home, he excessively indulged in alcohol, hookers, and cigarettes, the jokes would have had a more humorous impact. It would have been hilarious to watch Santa lose control and start to allow his professional and personal lives collide. But the Santa in Bad Santa has already lost control from the first time we see him on screen. He swears at kids so often, it becomes normal. But the movie lingers among the filth and smut long after we stop laughing.


Bad Santa also falls prey to implausibility: I do believe that a man would pose as Santa Claus while working, and then return to his life of drugs, sex, and alcohol after hours, but Bad Santa makes the argument that Santa is a drunken loser both on and off the field. While I am willing to suspend some disbelief while watching a movie like this, I find it very hard to believe that Santa would threaten, insult, and verbally abuse children while in the presence of parents, security guards, and store managersóespecially if he intended to steal from the department store that hired him. He would be on his best behavior in the public eye, not his worst.

As far as casting is concerned, Tony Cox is the obvious choice for Santaís elf, although his acting skills are unimpressive. For Santa, I hear rumors that Bill Murray expressed interest. When he backed out, another Bill stepped in: Billy Bob Thornton. His gruff appearance and hash voice suit the role well. But, as a whole, heís not the best man for the job; heís just not Santa Clausónot even this Santa Claus. Bernie Mac and John Ritter, in supporting roles, steal some scenes, but they do not have enough screen time to make a major impact.

Note: You might want to think twice about taking your kids to this Christmas movie. If they see it, they will never be the same again.


Merry Christmas!

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