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
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
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
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.
~~ Jules Brenner