Bad Santa (2003)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
The author of this review is among those people who are getting increasingly troubled with the whole concept of Christmas in modern world. What used to be a time of joy is now turning into unbearable emotional and financial burden, as well as ultra-commercial travesty which has little to do with people’s religion or culture. Hollywood has contributed a lot to those trends, so I was pleased to learn about at least one Hollywood film that treats Christmas subversively. Unfortunately, BAD SANTA, 2003 black comedy directed by Terry Zwigoff, turned out to be a disappointment.
Protagonist of the film is Willie Stoke (played by Billy Bob Thornton), man who earns his living working as a Santa Claus in department stores. He is, however, far from the usual image of Santa Claus – he drinks heavily, even on job, uses foul mouth while talking to children and has a habit of engaging in unorthodox sexual practices with overweight women. His latest job brings him to Phoenix where Bob Chipesca (played by John Ritter), the store manager, doesn’t dare firing him because Willie’s partner and best friend happens to be Marcus (played by Tony Cox), black midget whose removal might bring bad publicity. Gin (played by Bernie Mac), department store’s security chief is much more perceptive and he learns about Willie and Marcus being duo of career criminals who use their disguise to rob department stores on Christmas. While Gin wants to get some of their loot, two new characters enter Willie’s life – Sue (played by Lauren Graham), barmaid with Santa fetish and retarded 8-year old boy (played by Brett Kelly) who somehow looks into Willie as surrogate father and invites him into his luxurious albeit parentless home.
The concept behind BAD SANTA is simply brilliant. Character of Willie embodies the complete anti-thesis of everything Christmas was supposed to symbolise – goodness, family values, charity. And the plot itself is metaphorical condemnation of the vulgar materialism that hijacked what had used to be deeply spiritual holiday. Unfortunately, by the middle of the film BAD SANTA loses most of its subversive value because writers Glen Ficcara and John Requa don’t know how to finish story, at least not without succumbing to all-too-familiar Hollywood clichés. So, the despicable protagonist falls in love in beautiful woman and befriends little child who serves as tool of his ultimate redemption. The promising start of the film is ruined by weak and predictable ending.
BAD SANTA is ultimately disappointing film, but this can’t be said of the acting performances in it. Billy Bob Thornton is fascinating in the role of loser who is anything but lovable, but whose character glues audience to the screen. Tony Cox is also good, as well as John Ritter in the last film role of his life. But this fine acting, and occasional good joke at the beginning, can’t hide the fact that BAD SANTA is one of those few Hollywood films that live to their names.
RATING: 4/10 (+)