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Bad Santa (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Outtakes; deleted scenes; featurette.

CHRISTMAS movies traditionally come wrapped in enough schmaltz to make even the sweetest viewer feel a little sick, so it makes a refreshing change to find one as politically incorrect as Bad Santa.

Terry Zwigoff's movie is an unrelenting black comedy, about an out-and-out loser (Billy Bob Thornton) who poses as Santa each Christmas in order to rob the store of his choosing, so that he can pay for his drinking money for the ensuing 12 months.

Far from being a criminal mastermind, however, Thornton's Willie T Stokes is a drunken, swearing, occasionally incontinent, but always horny thief, who only makes it through each season thanks to the watchful guidance of his equally foul-mouthed accomplice - a black dwarf, named Marcus (played by Tony Cox).

Yet time is running out for the duo, thanks in no small part to the self-loathing that Willie continues to feel for himself, and the unwanted attentions of some of the town's equally hopeless inhabitants.

First off, there's Bernie Mac's crooked security chief, who wants in on the scam, followed by the late John Ritter's timid mall manager, who simply wants rid of his new-found liabilities.

To complicate matters still further, Willie finds himself being hero-worshipped by a chubby picked-on kid (Brett Kelly), who is seriously short on his own self-respect, while simultaneously embarking on an unlikely relationship with a sexy bartender (Lauren Graham) who gets her sexual kicks from sleeping with Santa.

Sound deviant? You bet but therein lies the fun. It's no mistake that the movie was produced by Joel and Ethan Coen given that their deadpan, offbeat humour resonates throughout the proceedings.

Rather like unwrapping a sex toy in front of your parents, or turning up drunk for the Christmas meal, the film continually sets about offending most sensibilities - yet does so with aplomb.

Thornton really ought not to be likeable as the bad Santa in question, especially since he gives trailer trash a good name, but there is something oddly satisfying about watching his despicable low-life stumble from one disaster to the next. He is an unlikely anti-hero, whose outlandish habits somehow seem cool no matter how hurtful they are.

Zwigoff's script is packed full of did he really say that moments, all of which flirt with the boundaries of good taste, but which have you laughing hysterically in spite of your own misgivings.

What's more, it doesn't cop out, as so many anti-hero movies do. Willie does come to care, in spite of himself, but the movie refuses to allow him off the hook completely, making it the sort of gift that keeps on giving.

That said, the movie is not for the faint-hearted, or anyone who is likely to feel offended by the notion of seeing Santa swear at children, and it's sure to provoke the wrath of the Daily Mail brigade. Kids should steer well clear.

But for anyone who has had their fill of preachy festive movies, or adopts a Scrooge-like mentality to the whole festive period, this offers the perfect remedy.

It's laugh-out-loud funny, completely original and a cracker from start to finish.

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