Bad Santa [retro review]

“It’s a wooden pickle.”

The Scoop: 2003 R, directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, and Bernie Mac

Tagline: He doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice.

Summary Capsule: The guy from Sling Blade partners with the dude from Ocean’s Eleven and the little person from Me, Myself and Irene to rob a mall, but reconsiders after meeting the chick from Gilmore Girls and the kid from, ah, nowhere.  At Christmas.

Drew’s Rating: Funnier than a kid getting punched in the nuts

Drew’s Review: If ever there was a film that would uplift your spirit, gladden your heart, and restore your faith in the meaning of Christmas, it’s got to be… well, um, It’s A Wonderful LifeBad Santa, on the other hand, revolves around Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), a professional burglar and safecracker who could be big time if he weren’t a professional alcoholic as well. Also, dumb. So instead, his life consists of getting a job as a department store Santa every December, with his partner Marcus (Tony Cox) as an elf, learning all he can about the mall security system, and on Christmas Eve, robbing the place blind.

Following that, he spends the remaining 11 months of the year drinking the money away and generally being a loser, then starts the process all over again. It’s a living, but Willie is getting older and sloppier, and things begin to change when he encounters a troubled kid and a hot bartender who make him reconsider the course his life is taking. Will he still be able to go through with the heist this year… or will that holiday magic touch even the cold, black heart of Saint Nick himself?

Y’know, I’ll say this for ol’ Billy Bob — he clearly hasn’t lost his way with the ladies. Lauren Graham may not be quite in Angelina’s league, but she sure ain’t too hard on the eyes… or the ears for that matter, and believe me, you’ll know the scene when you get to it. In fact, if I have any complaint with the movie, it’s that Thornton doesn’t come across as quite as much of a loser as the Coen Brothers seem to want us to think he is. True, he’s a self-destructive alcoholic; he’s also an expert safecracker and conman who’s not too shabby at stealing cars to boot (and may I just add that if it’s really as easy as it seems here, I’m never valet parking my car. Ever). And what happens when he sits around in a bar getting lit and feeling sorry for himself? Oh, right — THAT. I’d like to go on record as saying that only once has an attractive female bartender EVER bought me a drink, and despite my best efforts, it definitely didn’t end like that. Dammit. Gotta be the hat.

Anyway, what is there to say about Bad Santa? Well, it’s funny. American Pie funny, though, so pleeeease don’t think this is one to take the kids or grandma to see — it’s not. Unless your grandma is really, really cool, in which case, rock on. Still, while in rampantly unrepentant bad taste, it’s for the worthy cause of making us laugh, and in that, the film succeeds more often than not. It was conceived and executive produced by the Coen Brothers, which should give you some idea of what to expect, but with a different director (Terry Zwigoff); thus, you get a film that’s not as surreal as some Coen offerings, and with more juvenile gross-out gags than Raising Arizona or Fargo, but one that bears their unmistakable signature nonetheless. All of the actors do a nice job with their roles, though special mention must go to Thornton, who — undoubtedly like anybody dumped by Angelina Jolie — is extremely convincing as a drunk, pathetic shell of a man, and to the kid, who (to paraphrase Garden State), if he isn’t really Special Ed, sure is an amazing actor.

So what didn’t I like? Well, take this as a prime example of how jaded movies have made me, but I think it speaks volumes when the aspect of the flick that disturbed me the most by far wasn’t the immense levels of profanity, or the gratuitous sex, or the gunplay and vehicular violence, or the frightening number of testicular hits… no, not any of these things, but rather the sight of Bernie Mac receiving a pedicure. *shudder* Nobody should be forced to watch that outside of prison. And obviously, even in relatively down-to-earth movies like this one, some elements are going to come off as just a wee bit unbelievable (see: drunken waste of space bags hot bartender). I don’t know if any police officers happen to read this site, but if so, I’m curious — is it standard operating procedure to create police car blockades with juuuuust enough room for the perp’s getaway car to squeeze in between them on his way out? Seems counterproductive, somehow.

Still, minor problems aside, Bad Santa is exactly what it professes to be: a low-brow, obscenity-laden, genuinely funny comedy with some clever lines and good actors. If that’s your sort of thing, you know who you are, so knock yourself out. And if not… well hey, Miracle on 34th Street is good too. Go see that.

…you really need a caption for this? Where’s your imagination?

Intermission!

  • We don’t ever find out the kid’s actual name.
  • Liz writes in, “On this page, you ask if viewers noticed that you never find out the kid’s real name. The truth is, his name is Thurman Merman. It is on his report card, and Billy Bob Thorton’s character even mentions it. So… the kid does have a name after all.”
  • The department store manager was John Ritter’s final film role before his death.
  • Er, isn’t it usually the kid who pees on Santa’s lap… not Santa on himself?
  • The F-bomb is dropped a total of 147 times; the unrated DVD version kicks it up a notch to 170. BAM!
  • Larry David, Jack Nicholson, and Bill Murray were all considered for the role of Willie. Murray opted out to do Lost in Translation instead (to Lissa’s chagrin, but probably the better career move), while Nicholson was already committed to Something’s Gotta Give.
  • Drew would just like to point out that it is frigging IMPOSSIBLE to get quotes from this movie, because every single line of dialogue has more profanity than the South Park movie.
  • Bill R. writes in, “As a police officer and movie fan I had to let you know that, yes it is KIND OF procedure to leave an escape route when using most roadblocks. That way you take the lethal force liability out of the whole thing. Oh, and I loved Bad Santa. Saw it in the theatre, laughed my ass off.”

Groovy Quotes

Kid: Your beard’s not real.
Willie: It was real, but I got sick and all the hair fell out.
Kid: How come?
Willie: I loved a woman who wasn’t clean.
Kid: Mrs. Claus?
Willie: Actually it was her sister.

Willie: You can’t drink worth [crap].
Marcus: I weigh 92 pounds, you [jerk]!

Kid: It’s a wooden pickle.

Willie: Kid, when I was your age, I didn’t need no gorilla. And I wasn’t as big as one of your legs. Four kids beat me up one time and I went crying home to my daddy. You know what he did?
Kid: He made it all better?
Willie: No, he kicked my ass. You know why?
Kid: Because you went to the bathroom on mommy’s dishes?
Willie: What? No!
Kid: He wanted to teach you not to cry and be a man?
Willie: No! It’s because he was a mean, drunk son of a bitch. And when he wasn’t busy busting my ass, he was putting cigarettes out on my neck. The world ain’t fair. You’ve gotta take what you need when you can get it. You’ve gotta learn to stand up for yourself. You have to stop being a [wuss] and kick these kids in the balls or something.
Kid: …
Willie: Or don’t, I don’t care. Just leave me the hell out of it.
Kid: Okay. Thanks Santa!

Kid: Do you and Mrs. Santa have kids?
Willie: No.
Kid: What about the elves?
Willie: Well, they stay with Mrs. Santa. I get them on the weekends.

Willie: I beat the [crap] out of some kids today, but it was for a purpose.

Willie: I’ve been to prison once, I’ve been married – twice. I was once drafted by Lyndon Johnson and had to live in [crappy] Mexico for 2 1/2 years for no reason. I’ve had my eye socket punched in, a kidney taken out and I got a bone-chip in my ankle that’s never gonna heal. I’ve seen some pretty [crappy] situations in my life, but nothing has ever sucked more ass than this!

Willie [letter to the kid]: Thank you for giving that letter to the cops. I forgot I asked you to do it, but it’s a good thing you did or Santa’s little helper would have plugged his ass. Now the cops know I wrote it, which is gonna keep my ass out of jail. That, plus everyone agreeing that the Phoenix police department shooting an unarmed Santa was even more [messed] up than Rodney King.

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