Preview by: Jack Foley
AT A time when Hollywood traditionally likes to overdose on saccharine-coated
fare, it is refreshing to find that Disney, of all people, have
put out a slightly less traditional festive movie.
Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa casts Billy Bob Thornton as one of
the most crooked, corrupted and downright hysterical Kris Kringles
ever to grace the screen.
Produced by the Coen brothers, and inspired by a mix of movie
classics, including the outrageous one-liners and outcasts of
The Bad News Bears, and the riotous impertinence of
South Park, Bad Santa is being billed as a Christmas comedy
unlike any other.
And it has gone down a storm with US critics, who have treated
its hilarity like a breath of fresh air, amid the glut of sickly-sweet
childrens movies which traditionally pack out cinemas this
time of the year.
Zwigoff has already developed a hip, cult following, not to mention
critical acclaim, for his first two movies, Crumb and Ghost World,
but describes Bad Santa as his most accessible comedy to date,
all the while pulling no punches on a wild ride through Christmas'
outlandish, funnier side.
Yet, in suitably indie style, the film skewers classic holiday
traditions such as the rampant commercialism which surrounds this
time of the year, smart-mouthed mall rugrats and Santa's saintly
Thornton portrays Willie T. Stokes, a washed-up, wise-cracking
Department Store Santa who can't help but be more naughty than
Underneath his ill-fitting red suit, Willie is actually a safecracker
who makes one big score every year on Christmas Eve.
As shoppers head home from the mall, this Santa and his ingenious
Elf - Willie's midget partner-in-crime, Marcus (Tony Cox) - crack
the store safe and make off with their own holiday stash.
But then comes Phoenix, where Santa and his Elf find their annual
heist endangered by a pesky store manager (John Ritter), a savvy
mall detective (Bernie Mac), a sexy Santa fan (Lauren Graham)
and an innocent, but beleaguered eight-year-old misfit (Brett
Kelly) ,who decides to believe that Willie - as intoxicated, acid-tongued
and felonious as he seems to be - is the real Santa he's been
Thornton sums the film up by saying: "This is a story that
brings the sensibility of 'South Park' to the spirit of 'It's
A Wonderful Life.' It turns your typical idea of a Christmas comedy
on its head."
While Zwigoff recalls that he was drawn to the project after
reading the script on a plane and laughing so hard he was almost
He adds: "What also appealed to me was the challenge of
making this unsympathetic character sympathetic. I usually find
that Christmas films ladle on the cheap sentiment, but with this
story I saw a chance to do something more truthful.
"That's what I liked so much about the screenplay - it's
harder edged and more true and, therefore, ultimately more moving."
UK audiences wont, however, be able to enjoy the movie
until later next year
Critics have largely been lining up to heap praise on Bad Santa,
despite initial scepticism among the more traditional promoters,
who criticised Disney for opting to distribute such fare.
Leading the fanfares is the Los Angeles Times, which wrote
that this is a superb stink bomb of an entertainment, generously
larded with jokes about alcoholics, short people, dim children
and the kind of sexual congress that until recently was illegal
in nine states.
The Chicago Sun-Times critic, meanwhile, opined that 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.
And the San Francisco Examiners critic confessed
that I have been laughing myself silly almost every day
since I saw it more than a week ago.
The New York Times, meanwhile, noted that it takes
all the Christmas seasons bad vibes and converts them into
an achingly funny and corrupt dark comedy.
Given the nature of the film, however, there were bad reviews,
with Entertainment Weekly dismissing it, merely, as rancid
and one-note, while the Toronto Star felt that
it rides a one-trick reindeer that tires well before the
second reel, and it mistakes crudity and cruelty for humour.
LA Weekly, meanwhile, lamented it for getting stuck in
The San Francisco Examiner, however, continues the good
vibe surrounding it, by noting that it is a tasteless, vulgar,
savage assault against everything that is good and decent in the
Christmas season. I think you are going to like it.
While Arizona Republic noted that the movie actually
has a heart - a coal-black heart, but a heart nonetheless - and
it's bitingly funny.
The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, wrote that it is extremely
funny - at times sidesplittingly so - thanks to Zwigoff's way
with raw irreverence and Thornton's perfectly pitched, ready-for-
And The Washington Post noted that Thornton, with
his one-of-a-kind drawl, his lazy gaze, restless shaggy eyebrows
and misanthropic attitude, seems to be the movie's essential X-factor.
USA Today wrote that it's such an original that
it could eventually become the No. 1 cult movie of 2003,
while the Los Angeles Daily News felt that it happens
to be one of the year's funniest movies, a little one-note at
times, but, boy, Zwigoff knows how to make some crazy music from
that single note.
Rolling Stone concludes this overview, however, by predicting
that it could become a Christmas perennial for Scrooges
of all ages.