Badder Santa DVD
Cinema Signal:
Badder Santa DVD

. "Bad Santa"

Parents: in case you haven't heard about this film, it's not for the kids! What we have here is a case of a couple of conmen with a scam that works for them. Willie (Billie Bob Thornton), whose hatred of children is outdone only by his self-hatred, takes jobs as Santa Claus every season at a department store in different cities. Willie is an ace safe-cracker, a ne'er do well with a foul mouth, and an almost hopeless drunk.

Backing him up is Marcus (Tony Cox), a small person/dwarf who completes the act by playing the part of Santa's elf helper. All decked out in costumes befitting the roles, these evil troupers set about casing the joint so as to abscond with Marcus's girlfriend's shopping list and all the cash they can find in the safe. It is not about preserving the cherished symbol of the biggest holiday of the year.

The Santa performance itself is a study in betraying that image as much as possible when Willie can leave the bottle alone long enough to sit in his chair and receive the waiting line of tots to sit on his knee and tell him what they'd like for gifts. But when store manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter) catches Willie banging a fat lady in a restroom in women's wear, he takes the case to security chief Gin (Bernie Mac). If Gin doesn't seem to be playing his assigned role either, it's because he's up to his neck in criminal greed and intends to cut himself in for a big piece of the action.

But, a couple of more unpredictable things develop. Willie becomes attached to The Kid (Brett Kelly), an overweight little nerd of a boy, at first for strictly selfish reasons but then as a consequence of selfless (for him) bonding and protectiveness. Second, bartender Sue (Lauren Graham), a thoroughly appealing gal with a totally engaging personality, seems to have a thing for men in uniform and falls for Willie in his reds. Completely turned on, she makes sure he stays in the outfit while making out. She's more than he deserves but he's not so dissolute that he doesn't know a good thing when one enters his undeserving life.

These two characters provide this movie elements of love in a project that explores all the variations on the "f___" word and a substantial amount of degradation, ugliness and murder. What's most suprising of all is that a screenplay that seems so desperate to make humor out of twisted bad taste pulls it off. Have you ever kicked yourself for laughing at something depraved or disgusting? This film, with its toilet humor, ethnic mockery and mean putdowns actually comes through with enough giggles, chuckles and belly laughs to make it one of the more successful comedies of the year.

Thornton does exceedingly well as a vulgarized W.C. Fields (who, for those too young to know, was one of the comedic geniuses of the 20's to the 40's who based his schtick on child hatred and drinking). John Ritter, in what might be his last movie role, is good in a slightly effeminate, wussy supporting role. Bernie Mac demonstrates a good balance between dead pan humor and the criminal edge.

But best of all is Lauren Graham ("Sweet November", "One True Thing"), who creates the emotional heart of a picture determined not to have one. Her desire for scuzzy Willie is a bit of a stretch but like many other things here, going with it pays off. Perhaps his worthlessness is sexier than I'm giving him credit for, but it's Graham's scenes that are the cream floating on a sour but funny mix.

Which make us wonder what the sequel will be called. "Attrocious Santa?" Scuzzball Santa?" Give us your ideas.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Billy Bob Thornton and Lauren Graham
Santa's really not so bad... in bed
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