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My first reaction to Bad Santa was pretty negative. After seeing it in the theater, I gave it only one and one-half stars, saying that the upbeat ending ruined what could have been a deliciously dark comedy by shining a happy light on the miserable proceedings.

Since I don’t know what footage was added back for this unrated DVD (it’s called Badder Santa, although the movie looks the same as I remember it), I can’t say whether it’s the new version or a second viewing. Whatever it is, I have warmed somewhat to the movie, and I don’t even mind its message of redemption.

Take That, Christmas!

Kelly and Thornton give Bad Santa their best, or is it their worst?
Kelly and Thornton give Bad Santa their best, or is it their worst?
Santa is even naughtier on DVD, so they say
Santa is even naughtier on DVD, so they say

With Bad Santa, director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) flips the bird at holiday cheer. The movie has an ugly and hostile heart, but its cynicism is sincere, if that makes sense.

Billy Bob Thornton is Willie, a mall Santa who works one month out of the year. Marcus (Tony Cox) is the “elf” who takes him under his wing. Every year, on Christmas Eve, Willie and Marcus rob the store they’ve been working in and live off the money until next December.

Willie is barely able to keep sober enough to do his job, which he hates more than the bone chip in his ankle or getting punched in the eye socket. There are laughs to be had here, particularly with Thornton throwing himself gleefully into the role. He vomits in an alley behind a bar, pisses himself in a drunken stupor, and gets attacked by a crazed, homophobic would-be rapist. It’s crass, and not for all tastes, but within the realm of “funny.”

In his last role, John Ritter plays a timid department-store manager unable to bring himself to even utter what he catches Willie doing, much less fire him for it. He seeks help from the store’s chief of security, played by Bernie Mac, who commands laughs just by glaring at Ritter and peeling an orange.

And what Christmas movie would be complete without children? Brett Kelly makes a strong impression as “The Kid,” the chubby, curly-headed, snot-encrusted nightmare of every mall Santa. Behind the snot, we actually get to know The Kid, a complex, resilient shy boy with some interesting problems to work out.

Redemptio Ad Absurdum

Within this universe, screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (working from a story by the Coen brothers) tweak the idea of redemption. As revolting as The Kid is, Willie gives him a ride home, which is lucky for him because the Kid’s mom and dad aren’t around. Only feeble old Grandma cares for him, in a big suburban house full of pawnable goodies.

Rather than steal everything in one night, Willie decides to live there. That means he can’t avoid the Kid, whose resilient optimism eventually leads to Willie’s “redemption,” which is manifested in the ass-kicking he administers to the junior high punks who bully the Kid. Child-beating as proof of a good heart. Now that’s black comedy.

I still say Bad Santa could have been better. Drunken, cynical Santas, even felonious ones, are one thing, but when the script calls for a cold-blooded murder, that’s just not funny. The guns, police cars, and chase scene that light up the end seem like they come from a different movie. And while I’m not as averse to the tacked-on happy ending, I now question how much plot logic was discarded to make room for it.

DVD Extras

If the extra features on Badder Santa are a little better than average, it’s partly because I haven’t seen any good extra features lately. Badder Santa’s are maybe a little funnier than most, but not particularly impressive.

The DVD includes three deleted scenes. All are funny enough that they might have been included in the movie. Refreshingly, they don’t feel included on the DVD merely because they exist; they actually add to the entertainment value.