Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a department store Santa who hasn’t hit rock bottom – he lives there. When he’s not puking in alleyways or passing out on and off the job, Willie and his partner (and head elf), Marcus (Tony Cox), break into the safes of the stores they work at and then split with the spoils. However, this successful scam hits a snag when they arrive in
Bad Santa wastes no time establishing its cynical worldview with Willie’s jaded opening voiceover that is hilarious in a darkly humorous way. The Director’s Cut removes the voiceover and so we aren’t manipulated as much on how to feel or what to think. It’s rare that a comedy revolves around such an unlikable central character. Willie is no Scrooge — he’s gone way beyond that into a whole new and surreal realm. Willie doesn’t care about anyone or anything. He pees his pants while on the job (because he’s just too hungover to move), he drinks constantly and he’s indifferent or downright mean to children — both on and off duty.
Billy Bob Thornton is something of a revelation in this role. He is constantly dirty and disheveled without a trace of vanity (he admitted to being drunk while making this film). It quickly becomes obvious that the actor committed completely to putting this disgusting character on screen. And yet, there is a charming quality to
It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by excellent supporting cast that features Tony Cox (Me, Myself and Irene) as Willie’s long-suffering partner and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) as the bartender with a heart of gold. There is also John Ritter (in his last live-action role) as the perpetually nervous and anal-retentive manager, and the always-reliable Bernie Mac as the no-nonsense department store detective. They all play well off each other and are given moments to showcase their talents.
Also of note is Brett Kelly who plays Thurman Merman, the little kid that befriends Willie — whether he wants him to or not. Kelly is excellent as a stocky rich kid who’s ostracized by other kids his age because of his weight. He is also left alone at home with his barely there grandmother. Kelly has really good comic timing as demonstrated by the funny scenes with
If you decide to rent or watch Bad Santa, I would recommend the Director’s Cut which also features an audio commentary by director Terry Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman. The filmmaker claims that he never thought he’d live to see this cut be released. He also candidly slams the cluelessness of test audiences that resulted in his original version being altered. For the pivotal role of Thurman Merman, the studio wanted to cast a good-looking child but Zwigoff was adamant about picking a child that looked more real, like the ones in the original The Little Rascals. In one of many amusing asides, Zwigoff admits to never having seen Lauren Graham in her popular television show The Gilmore Girls. This is a refreshingly candid track as the two men talk about their difficulties with the screenplay at great length.
Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “But I didn't like this movie merely because it was weird and different; I liked it because it makes no compromises and takes no prisoners. And because it is funny.” In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Manohla Dargis said that Bad Santa was “a Christmas movie that Lenny Bruce could love.” In his review for the New York Times, Elvis Mitchell wrote, “Mr. Thornton is an ace at playing cantankerous, mouthy jerks in love with the sound of their own voices, men who lack the restraint or sense of shame to keep their dissatisfaction to themselves.” In his review for the Village Voice, J. Hoberman wrote, “
Bad Santa is unrepentant in its own politically incorrectness and never betrays its original, crass, jaded worldview with a cop-out happy ending. The Director’s Cut certainly reinforces this and is 11 minutes shorter than the Unrated version with at least seven scenes now missing in action. The results are a mixed bag. While some scenes that were cut out of this version should have been left in, the film does feel tighter now trimmed of any excess fat. There is still a hint of redemption for Willie but on his own terms. It is truly amazing in this day and age that a film backed by a
For more on the Director's Cut, check out an interview with Zwigoff, here.