STUDIO: Dimension Home Video
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 88 Minutes
Commentary w/ dir. Terry Zwigoff and Robert Hoffman
Deleted scenes
Behind-the-scenes featurette

The Pitch

the Bible, but without being cleaned up by prudish translators!"

The Humans

Billy Bob
Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren "Swoon" Graham, John Ritter.

The Nutshell

Soke (
Thornton) lives in alcohol-drenched stupor in his apartment for
eleven months out of the year. However, in December he breaks away from all
that and lives in an alcohol-drenched stupor while pretending to be Santa
Claus. Not for the joy of seeing happy children, though, but so that he and his
partner (Cox) can case the malls where they work, crack the safes on Christmas
Eve, and support themselves for another year of glorious life.

Strong enough to kill a cigarette.

The Lowdown

What is
the spirit of the holidays? It’s one great, big "Fuck You!" to the
winter, now in retreat; it’s gratitude at keeping the barbarians at the gate;
it’s good old materialism; and it’s also the promise of redemption, depending
on your various religious beliefs. Christmas movies usually go the route of
least contention and infuse their narratives with safe, "Goodwill to mankind"
morals. Such stories have grown repetitive and redundant for a holiday that has
held a popular significance for thousands of years in its various forms.

Too much
of that sugar will give you halitosis, if not worse. Enter Bad Santa, a filthy,
funny holiday story that manages to contain simultaneously the most inclusive
holiday philosophy and the most distancing content. Director Terry Zwigoff, a
proven hand at stories about outsiders (Crumb, Ghost World,) coaxes a
charming sentiment from a script peppered with more usages of the word fuck than I’ve ever been able to manage
without my tongue getting sticky. The script relies a bit too heavily on shock,
and not enough on character, but Zwigoff’s role as a unifier of different
cinematic elements serves the story well.

Who will save the world when Ben Affleck has the sniffles?

worth picking apart some of those elements. Let’s start with the antihero.
Willie Soke is a bastard. He’s not the sort of bastard that you feel an
immediate sympathy for, the sort of affection with which blinkered mothers
regard their jailbird sons. He’s drunk while on duty, belching on little tots
from behind his fake beard. He pisses his pants when he can’t be bothered to stand
up. He hasn’t seen the world clearly since he was maybe six years old. Billy
Bob Thornton, as you might imagine, is absolutely perfect in this role. Willie
suffers through the long months of playing Santa in order to get the large
haul, but seems to feel no pick-me-up even after a job well pulled.

The only
person that could possibly love him would be a little kid, especially if that
little kid is just possibly retarded. (Well, a kid, and Lauren Graham, in a
crush-affirming role as Soke’s most recent lay. I dare you to listen to her
squeal, "Fuck me Santa, fuck me Santa, fuck me Santa!" and not feel
the warmth of the season.) But that’s not enough for Willie, who gently sinks
into a deep depression as the story moves ahead.

remains an engaging anchor all the way through the film, but there is a bit of
a problem with the depth of his character. He is very well-defined, yeah, but
he’s also flatly written. A round character can make emotional changes that are
unexpected and perfectly believable; a flat character either doesn’t even try
to make those changes, or breaks the audience’s suspension of disbelief when
they do so. It’s the latter in Willie’s case.
Thornton plays his role to the hilt, and
is plain fun to watch. If he had to pull the film on his own, though, the story
would be unconvincing.

I forgot what I was going to type.

there are contributions from a number of other fine actors. Tony Cox plays a
fine internal conflict, as he fights between wanting to smash Willie’s head in
for his stupidity and wanting to pull off the job. Bernie Mac is deadpan funny
as a crooked security guard; witness his sequence of haggling percentages with
Cox. Then there’s little Brett Kelly as Willie’s young, mentally-absent friend.
Master Kelly’s subplot traces a familiar path of "fuckhead finds purpose
through the pure love of a child," but its presence in the plot is
justified through the strangeness of the kid and the sheer bizarre interactions
that he and Willie have.

All these
characters are flatly-written, as well; it’s their interactions which keeps
them vibrant and moving. The plot moves quickly and, partly because it’s
exec-produced by the Coen brothers, heads into some material of a more
disturbing nature than simply foul language and behavior. The writers did a
good job of bringing characters into conflict, even if they weren’t able to
fully satisfy those thirsty for believable resolution.

Do you say, "Buck up, kid," in this situation?

writing, the plot, and the acting (and the soundtrack, which is just
tone-perfect in choice throughout) have the good fortune to be wrangled under
Zwigoff’s direction. He takes a motley army of pieces and marches them across
the board to what I’d consider a victory. The journey of Willie Soke from
lonely bastard to bastard with a couple of friends in the world is one that
doesn’t seem to cover much conceptual territory, but here are the things that I
admire about the path taken:

1) Willie Soke needs no magic in

never even any mention of it. The holidays aren’t magical inherently. It’s the
human beings you stick yourself around that make or break the mood.

2) Willie Soke is redeemed.

any trumpets, without any angels. Without even setting up the assumption that
he was in desperate need of salvation. Willie carries a moral into the
conclusion that doesn’t insult and doesn’t offend and represents exactly how far he has come.
That moral is: "Fuck, it’s not so bad to invest yourself in other

Bad Santa is a big drink of fresh water for
an audience fed up with theoretical idealism. It’s fantasy, too, sure, but it
is fantasy of a different sort, more of a "Wouldn’t-it-be-great-if"
than the standard "If-you-close-your-eyes-you-might-believe" junk. It
is a moderate success in its end goals, because of the bumpy path it takes
getting there, but it’s certainly one of my holiday favorites.

How did you think RoboSanta came about?

The Package

No Lauren
Graham on the cover, wearing a Santa hat? Very much rage. The bonuses are
scant, as they have been on the previous releases, and include a brand new
commentary with Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffman. Zwigoff seems to be a very
thoughtful filmmaker, and keenly aware of how filth and raunch contribute to
modern art. He’s kind of an education to listen to, and Hoffman fills in nicely
with a bunch of film-specific trivia. It’s a good track.

There are
also (sigh) deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and outtakes.

For those of you wondering whether this version is worth the triple-dip: the differences between this "director’s cut" and the theatrical cut are negligible. This cut is still rated R. The commentary track is good, but I’d wager it’s not enough to sell a return trip.

7.3 out of 10