Miracle on 34th Street Meets Leaving Las Vegas in Bad Santa
The "holiday season" is a surreal waking nightmare for many citizens young and old here in the United States of America. It's a time during which waste, taste, and truth are excused in aid of getting or having or feeling some of that "holiday spirit" everyone's always talking about, and wishing for and wondering why the hell you don't have any. Where's your Holiday Spirit? Here's a clue: Sometimes it comes in a bottle.
Outsider/insider director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) and Academy Award-winning actor and stone celebrity jus'-plain-folks crazyman Billy Bob Thornton conspire to drive a sharp, pointy candy cane into the eye of anyone who believes in the idea of Christmas, the Jolly Fat Man in the Red Suit, the American family, or justice. It's not that these things don't exist, necessarily, but that maybe they come bundled up in unconventional and, hey, just downright unattractive wrapping paper, such as this movie, for instance.
Bad Santa is the tale of one Willie T. Soke (Thornton), a dissolute seasonal department-store Santa who is more than he seems, and less, thanks to the indiscriminant and constant abuse of alcohol, compulsive sexual activity, and a well-founded sense of self-hatred. Santa/Soke's only seeming friend in this world is his partner in crime, Marcus (Tony Cox), a little person (the straw what stirs the drink for sure-fire bookings of a shopping-mall Santa act) who depends on Willie to get through the holiday season and stuff the sack on Christmas Eve. The late John Ritter reminds us to miss him in a gentle turn as a sensitive, befuddled mall manager who stumbles across Santa (the bad one) in the plus-size section fitting room, fitting into a plus-size, and the effusive, irrepressible Bernie Mac kicks it down into low gear for once as a crafty store security chief.
This ain't no A Christmas Story, but you know darn well it's not a holiday picture unless there's a wide-eyed youngster (Brett Kelly) on hand, full of hope and ready to be crushingly disappointed; just so's we don't ruin one of the many harsh movie-moments centered on this heartbreaking character, let's just call him the Kid. He's guileless, kinda fat, lives with his spacey grandma (the forever-old Cloris Leachman), and you just know he's the one who's maybe gonna learn the Bad Santa--and us, the Bad Audience--a simple yet important lesson about the holiday season, or life, or something, when we're not marveling at his unceasingly innocent gaze or enormous wedgie.
But look, you're not gonna worry about all that obvious holiday-movie sentiment, because the Christmasy crap is lovingly swaddled in a festive skin of offensive, cynical activity featuring Bad Santa drinking; Bad Santa fucking, dry humping, or staring a hole into any woman possessing buttocks; Bad Santa yelling and cursing at real-life children (right, just like the holidays) and calling them "mongoloids"; Bad Santa drinking more and engaged in more fucking, only this time with Sue (Lauren Graham), a chick who never got to make Christmas, so she gots a serious love-me-daddy issue going with Bad Santa; and Academy Award-winner Billy Bob Thornton as Bad Santa pissing himself in uniform.
Bad Santa is rated R "for pervasive language, strong sexual content and some violence," and boy does it deserve it. This flick is dirty, mean, vile, and a completely successful exercise in holiday cinema. Maybe if it was rated NC-17 or X, it would be even more funny. But as it is, it's the next best thing to getting liquored up and laughing your ass off trying not to laugh during midnight mass.