Bad Santa


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Bad Santa
The Masked Reviewer

You better not pout, you better not cry, you better not shout, because if you do, Santa will kick your ass.

Bad Santa was written by the creators of Cats and Dogs and the upcoming Cats and Dogs 2: Tinkles' Revenge.  Don't let that scare you off, however; story and producing credits also go to Joel and Ethan Coen, also known as the Coen Brothers, who brought you Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, and most recently Intolerable Cruelty.  With that information alone, the movie could go either way.

And, it does go either way.  It's a dark comedy featuring Billy Bob Thornton, who seems to be in every other film released this year.  Billy Bob plays a mean, dark, bitter character, and he does it convincingly.  Why, if he was wearing a mask it would be like looking in a mirror!

The potential problem with a xmas-themed dark comedy is that you expect a happy ending for everyone, and a drastic change in the characters as they embrace the meaning and spirit of xmas, just like the Grinch (from the book and cartoon, not from the Jim Carey movie).  Fortunately, the movie doesn't sell out completely, which earns it a few points.

The problem is that it's not as funny as it could be.  It has some funny scenes and a few good lines, but most of the humor comes in watching Billy Bob play a mean, dark, bitter Santa Claus.  Since the film is called Bad Santa, the Masked Reviewer doesn't think that's giving too much away.  Anyway, you see the humor of the paradoxical joining of beloved children's icon with drunk bastard, but that's the big joke in the film.  Billy Bob does manage to keep the character interesting by slowly unpeeling the layers of the onion of his character's depravity, but the film doesn't really build. 

Bernie Mac has a small role in the film, and he's fun to watch.  Lauren Graham (of "The Gilmore Girls") is the love interest and doesn't have much character to work with, but she's fine too.  Cloris Leachman (nurse Diesel in High Anxiety), who is still alive, plays the grandmother.  Even though asleep for most of the film, she's still funny. 

A weird performance is given by John Ritter, who isn't still alive.  He delivers a fine performance, but it gives the film a weird vibe whenever he's on screen...there were a lot of "awwww"s from the audience whenever he appeared, presumably from people who miss him, rather than a commentary on the quality of his performance.  He plays the kind of character he often played, awkward and uptight.  The Masked Reviewer always found John Ritter to be a charming actor, and he will be missed...unlike certain other members of the "Three's Company" cast, who can go to hell in a handbasket, as far as the Masked Reviewer is concerned.  Yeah, you know who you are JOYCE DEWITT.

Tony Cox from Me, Myself & Irene (that's just one movie; he played the dwarf limo driver) has a featured role in Bad Santa.  You might be able to figure out what he plays in this film (it isn't a limo driver).  His acting is passable, for a dwarf, though Peter Dinklage (Elf, The Station Agent) would've been a better choice.  Dinklage is tearing down the walls of bad midget acting. 

Also starring in the film is a kid, played by Brett Kelly.  He bringsa certain charm to his geeky outcast character.  He is reminiscent of a young, pudgy Will Ferrell.  He has the same sweet child-like innocence as Ferrell, except that he's actually a child.

The movie features a score peppered with classical music that's often used in cartoons as well as xmas music. 

Bad Santa certainly isn't intended for children.  The Santa really is bad.  But, while there are many chuckles in the film, there's only one memorable scene that evoked serious laughter, which involved a lot of testicular injury (that is, the scene involved testicular injury, not the serious laughter).  Even though it's a one-joke premise and the story moves along in a fairly predictable manner, it still manages to hold interest all the way until the end.  It's not terrible, but there's nothing great about it.  If you enjoy dark comedies that put the emphasis on the dark over the comedy, you might enjoy Bad Santa.  It seems like the filmmakers may have thought there were more laughs in it than there are, but Billy Bob Thornton's Santa is somehow compelling.  And, fans of the Coen Brothers should know that while there are hints of their style of humor, it isn't a Coen Brothers film.


Expectation from the Title: Not to be confused with Bad Fanta, the documentary film about the lawsuit over used condoms found in a refreshing soft drink.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Even though this Kris Kringle is awfully naughty, he still reminds us of the joy of the season!

The Pros: Interesting Santa character, unusual relationship between Santa and the kid.  A few laughs, a good choice for xmas haters.

The Cons: Not enough jokes, too much relies on the badness of Santa.  Weird vibe from John Ritter's appearance in the film. 


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