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Culture Reviews
Bad Santa / By T. Zwigoff /
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
From the very first scene as the beginning credits roll, ďBad SantaĒ takes a decided stance. We open to see Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) dressed up as a mall Santa, sitting at the bar all by his lonesome, wasting himself away with countless amounts of alcohol and cigarettes. In a long yet very satisfying narrated monologue, he recounts much of his life story and how he came into this occupation; his tirade peppered with enough 4-letter words to push the limits of the R-rating for language.

Kudos to director Terry Zwigoff for this handiwork, as after the initial shock of the monologue, he has prepared the audience enough for more ensuing bits of dark humour. In only the first couple of minutes he establishes: this is not your run-of-the-mill Santa story. Well, if youíre spoiled by the Capra-esque standard holiday movie, youíd be correct in figuring out some sort of redemption at movieís end, but how will it happen? Well, thatís the fun surprise!

Thereís a love interest, but itís not the kind of love that a woman can give to save a downtrodden man; this one has a Santa fetish. Thereís also a kid, but not like the sweet little girl on 34th Street; instead of endearing by cuteness, this one is more steadfast than a leech. Looking at the credits, I see that it was written by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, but it might as well been the dream collaboration of Quentin Tarantino and Niccolo Machiavelli.

As for the plot, itís that wonderful time of the year and Santa is once again in self-loathe. Having been raised by an abusive father and never taught the meaning of Christmas, he consoles his bad childhood by saying: ďat least he taught me how to crack a safe.Ē Indeed, he might make a horrible mall Santa, but heís one of the best safecrackers in the business. Santaís accomplice is Marcus (Tony Cox), posing as his loyal elf yet seemingly masterminding the yearly yuletide scam.

The duoís ongoing MO seems to be to work at a mall, learn the intricacies of its security system, and then rob it blind just before Christmas holidays. As for this time around, while the mallís general manager (John Ritter) is a perfect target, things turn a little different when the sly security chief (Bernie Mac) decides to investigate. As for the enjoyable redemption-themed B-plot, Willie also spitefully earns a certain kidís (Brett Kelly) friendship, which serves as the intended catalyst of change.

If youíre thinking about snowflakes, second-class angels, or even flying reindeer, forget about watching it. This is not the kind of movie that a parent can use to teach their kid the meaning of Christmas. If youíre prepared to see trigger-happy Arizona police, a catatonic grandma who is fanatic about making sandwiches, or just plain unpredictable fun, then youíll love it!

Apart from the excellent writing and direction, the cast also came through in delivering the many laughs in the movie. Tony Cox and newcomer Brett Kelly certainly did not disappoint. Neither did John Ritter (to whom this movie was dedicated) in one of his last performances. Bernie Mac was also in stellar form, albeit with what seems to be a superfluous character. I reckon that he was actually in the movie for only about 10 minutes total, but was able to make gold out of every single appearance.

And finally, not enough praise can be given to Billy Bob Thornton, who is absolutely excellent as the foul-mouthed Santa. Itís with this movie that I can finally admit that he is one fine actor, as he proves to me that he can be at ease in playing a contemptible character such as Willie, generate 1001 laughs, and then extort just the right amount of pathos and sympathy that is necessary for the movieís finish. It would be nice to know someone like Willie, so long as one didnít have to meet him.

This is one great movie that I would even recommend for repeat viewing, not only because itís different, but also because it happens to be very good. The jokes are low, but the laughs are long. The nice boys and girls will always have their Capra-esque Christmases. ďBad SantaĒ is a gift for the naughty ones to see and enjoy.

10.12.04
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