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Life for suicidally depressed Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is as bad as it can get. Literally hopeless, he wastes his liver at a rate designed to waste himself before he needs to shave again. His one job each year is to play a bad and mean and grumpy department store Santa, in a joint scam with Marcus (Tony Cox) a dwarf [or is it midget], who dresses like one of the elves and whose tall Asian girlfriend has a permanent shopping list. But that's the sideline: Willy and Marcus specialise in safe-cracking their client stores around the country, after the kiddies have all gone home. Willy's drunken Santa, who often pees in his pants, is confronted by one overweight kid (Brett Kelly), who is so stoic he seems freaky. But what this kid manages to do is jolt Willie into one moment of redemption - just when it's too late. But then that's typical bad luck and bad timing for a bad Santa like Willie.

Review by Louise Keller:
You'd better watch out! Bad Santa is coming to town. You've never seen the man in the red suit like this before. When did you last see Santa puking in the snow? This Santa smokes, drinks, fornicates and curses like there's no Christmas. There's safe-cracking equipment in his sack and he can't stand the little darlings who sit on his lap, asking for that special Yuletide gift. 'Whaddya want?' he scowls through his sneezed-on woolly beard, 'A snot rag?'

Conceived by the Coen Brothers and directed by Ghostworld's Terry Zwigoff, Bad Santa is wondrously black, wildly irreverent and simply hilarious. This is a script that goes all the way. The characters are not overplayed, but remain true at all times, even in their wildest moments. Not intended for anyone who is easily offended, the film is full of profanities and pretty much everyone is targeted - from the disabled, to dwarfs, to the elderly, to coloured folks and minority groups.

Billy Bob Thornton's Santa is as sour as a lemon. He offers no goodwill to all mankind, just a cynical disdain and disrespect to everyone, including himself. And Thornton is sensational as Willie, the unshaven, vulgar man who can't help but be vile. Overwrought with anger-management issues, even the subservient alarm-clock is victim to his rage, which is hurled at the wall. 'Everything about you is ugly,' Marcus, his coloured, midget Elf side-kick tells him. Tony Cox as Marcus is terrific and there's something disquieting about the relationship between Willie and Marcus, as 3 foot tall Marcus organises and almost mothers him. Marcus is the audience warm-up as he gives a sense of anticipation to the children who are eagerly waiting in the department store to sit on Santa's lap.

The department store section head played by John Ritter is shocked when he finds Willie with his pants down in the oversize women's section, but Willie then meets up with Sue (Lauren Graham, lovely), the barmaid with a Santa complex. Bernie Mac is fun as Gin, the colourfully dressed head of security who wants a piece of the action, while Lauren Tom is a riot as Marcus's mail-order girlfriend. Great use of music too - well known classical pieces as well as sentimental Christmas songs.

But the heart of the film rests in the relationship between Willie and the retarded, fat kid, played by Brett Kelly. It's a fine performance, beautifully directed by Zwigoff who firmly keeps the tone in check. As the scales tip from black humour to pathos, we are deeply moved. I even felt a trickle of a tear start to form. And of course, there's a moral that unfolds as the story strands find their natural conclusion. I haven't laughed so much in ages. It's naughty, but not at all nice. Bad Santa is really out there.

There are a sprinkling of special features on the DVD, including an eight minute featurette offering a glimpse behind the scenes. It's not your typical Christmas movie, says Billy Bob Thornton, and director Terry Zwigoff tells how he couldn't stop laughing when he first read the script. There are a few outtakes and a handful of deleted scenes, including a scene at Santa school, where an earnest young teacher offers tips to make children smile for their photo with Santa.

Published April 7, 2005

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CAST: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Ajay Naidu, Lorna Scott

PRODUCER: Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron, Bob Weinstein

DIRECTOR: Terry Zwigoff

SCRIPT: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa


EDITOR: Robert Hoffman

MUSIC: David Kitay


RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Outtakes, deleted scenes, featurette, trailers

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: April 6, 2006

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