Miserable and alcoholic may not be words you’d associate with old Saint Nick but Billy Bob Thornton’s Santa is not your usual Father Christmas. He may not care if you’re naughty or nice (a rather appropriate tagline), but he’ll certainly take a liking to you if you happen to be a female with a penchant for the famous red-suited man hailing from the North Pole. All this and he just happens to be a conman who lulls malls into false senses of security on a yearly basis before robbing them of the contents of their safes and shops with the assistance of his ‘elf’ Marcus (Tony Cox).
Bad Santa is surprising insomuch as it defies almost all expectations associated with Christmas films. Living in a world far-removed from that lived in in umpteen Christmas films, Thornton’s Santa battles alcoholism, a loathing of children (he certainly seems to have fallen into the wrong profession) and dark suicidal moments. Bad Santa would almost succeed in its attempts to go against the natural Christmas film formula if it wasn’t that it reaches the same conclusions such formulas usually reach. Like other festive favourites the (worryingly) likeable rogue-like Santa finally finds redemption and brings happiness to at least one child’s life (credited as ‘The Kid’ but who is later revealed to be ingeniously named Thurman Merman). In Thornton ‘The Kid’ (Brett Kelly) finds hope and, more importantly, a friend… all this amidst sex, drink and depression in what is perhaps the most jovial of child icons.
Billy Bob Thornton’s deeply troubled Santa is the film’s highlight. Admitting that he was inebriated during filming gives his performance the edge of authenticity whilst exposing some intriguing light on the actor’s life. Cox, Lauren Graham (as Sue, the film’s closest thing to a love interest) and the lovably naïve kid all adding laughs to an unexpectedly enjoyable film. The relationship between the late John Ritter, who stars as the humbled employer of the questionable festive duo, and mall boss Bernie Mac provides some enjoyable banter and offers relief to the constant bickering between Thornton and Cox. When their latest mall hit begins to go haywire the increasingly bad Santa (who begins to wet himself at work whilst swearing at children) must decide where his heart lies.
Adding something new to the perhaps otherwise overdone genre Bad Santa , although it will never win over the more fanatical of Christmas lovers, contains some genuinely funny moments. It may be a Christmas film aimed solely at adults but it neatly avoids flaunting excessively adult material and thus sidesteps being a senseless barrage of shocking (and highly un-amusing) blunders.
Overall conclusion? Bad Santa, good film.
Best performance: Billy Bob is thoroughly convincing whilst The Kid is both empathetic and likeable.
Watch this if you liked: Scrooged