Christmas time is always considered a time for family and good will, and there are a lot of movies out there that reflect on those beliefs. But sometimes, you just want to watch the other half of the holiday season. You know, the movies that depict the downside to the holidays; movies filled with crime, mayhem, and death. There are probably just as many of the darker movies as there are light-hearted ones, but this one is one of my favorites. I’m not sure, but I would hazard a guess that there were some criminals that actually used this scam in real life, but they probably were a lot more professional than Willie was in Bad Santa.
The plot: Willie Stokes and his partner, Marcus, are a couple of con-men with a great system. With Willie posing as a mall Santa and Marcus as his elf, they work a mall every year, then on Christmas Eve, Marcus hides and deactivates the security system after the mall closes and the proceed to rob the large department stores. After their recent job is finished, Marcus comments about how Willie is getting worse with his drinking but Willie says not to worry as this is his last job. Willie plans to go down to Miami and live but Marcus says that if he calls him, Willie will be rushing to put on the Santa costume again. After several months in Miami, where Willie has burned through his money and is stealing from people to continue his drinking, he receives a call from MArcus telling him to head to Phoenix. Once there, they meet the mall manager, Bob Chipeska, but Willie’s vulgar remarks worry him and he shares his concerns with Gin, the mall security chief. On his first day at the job, Willie is already dunk and does his best to get rid of the kids as quickly as possible. One of the kids that sees him starts asking him questions and Willie finds himself answering them before the kid starts to unnerve him. After work, Willie goes to a bar, where he meets the bartender Sue and, partially because of her Santa Claus fetish, the end up having sex in his car. As he is about to leave, Willie is attacked by a guy but the kid from the mall starts yelling at the man to leave Santa alone and he leaves. Willie recognizes the kid from earlier and decides to give him a lift home, and the kid continues asking Willie questions. Arriving at the kid’s house, Willie finds out that the only other person there is the kid’s grandmother, who is rather senile, and he tricks the kid, Thurman, into showing him where the safe is, then steals his father’s car. The next day, Bob hears Willie having sex in the woman’s dressing room and after speaking with Willie and Marcus about it, he speaks to Gin about it, who decides to look into it. That night, Willie goes back to his hotel and, seeing someone looking around in there, Calls Marcus to let him know what is going on and then goes back to Thurman’s house to hide out. While there, Willie invites Sue over and they continue their relationship, with Sue starting to develop some actual feelings for Willie. The next day, Willie is awoken by Thurman’s screaming and holding his bleeding hand. Willie tries to help Thurman by pouring some vodka on the cut and Thurman runs off screaming, and Willie notices Thurman’s Advent calendar, which Willie ripped open while drunk the night before, and starts to feel bad. Meanwhile, Gin had someone run the license plate for the car that Willie is driving and goes to see Thurman’s dad, who is in jail for embezzlement. Gin tells Bob that Willie and Marcus as clean, but he then meets with Willie and Marcus after work, and says that he won’t report them but he wants half of the take. Realizing how far he has sunk, Willie tries to kill himself and gives Thurman a note that explains what he has done, but when he notices Thurman sporting a black eye, he goes out and beats up the bully that has been picking on Thurman. A few days before Christmas Eve, Willie and Sue are about to have sex when Thurman comes in the room and gives Willie the gift he made for him, a wooden pickle. Not knowing what to say, Willie is actually touched by the gift and thanks Thurman for the present. When Willie loses his temper the next day and asks Thurman why he keeps on with the present as he is not Santa Claus, Thurman says he knows Santa isn’t real but figured Willie would get him a gift because they are friends. Meanwhile, Marcus and his girlfriend Lois wait for Gin to leave and as he is driving along the highway, they flag him down, pretending to need a jump, but while Gin is connecting the cables, Lois steps on the gas, pinning Gin between the two cars and Marcus uses the jumper cables to finish him off. Sue comes over to help Willie and Thurman decorate Thurman’s house for Christmas then, as he prepares to leave to do the job at the mall, he realizes that he has grown to care for Thurman and tells him that he will be home for dinner. Sneaking back into the mall, Willie prepares to handle the safe but when he realizes what type of safe it is, he tells Marcus it will take a while. After eventually getting the safe open, Willie goes to get a present for Thurman, the pink stuffed elephant he asked for. After grabbing the elephant, he turns to see Marcus pointing a gun at him, telling him that every year Willie gets more and more unreliable so he feels like he has no choice. Lois tells Marcus to hurry up and shoot him when suddenly, the police show up and Willie, Marcus, and Lois are forced to run. Still holding the elephant, Willie gets in the car and, with the cops on his tail, he heads back to the house, determined to give Thurman a present. Arriving at the house, Willie races for the door but is shot down by the police, which is witnessed by several of the neighboring children, who proceed to scream. Some time later, Thurman receives a letter from Willie, thanking Thurman for giving the letter to the cops, and explains how Sue has been given temporary guardianship for Thurman, as nobody is really able to care for him and his grandmother. He also explains that the letter, plus the image of the cops shooting an unarmed Santa Claus, would help him stay out of jail and when he gets out of the hospital, he will be back to visit. Going outside to play, Thurman is confronted by the bully again but, following Willie’s words of advise, Thurman kicks the bully in the balls, then rides off on his back.
Bad Santa met with mostly positive reviews, holding a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus is that it is “A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn’t for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.” Billy Bob Thorton would be nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Satellite Award, but lost both times to Bill Murray’s performance in Lost In Translation. The movie was a box office hit, earning over $76 million off of a $23 million budget.
This is one of my favorite dark comedy movies, even when it isn’t the holiday season. Billy Bob Thorton (Willie) was hysterical in this role, made even more so by the fact that he was actually drunk during portions of the filming. Bernie Mac (Gin) and Tony Cox (Marcus) were also funny and, while it was only for a brief while, John Ritter (Bob) was a great straight man for all of them to play off of. The plot was good and the writing, while inappropriate, was really funny. The under story of Willie bonding with Thurman and growing to care for him did make for some light-hearted moments in this movie and did serve to show that even someone as miserable as Willie can have a good side to him. It definitely isn’t for everyone but this is a comedy worth watching.
Rating: 4 out of 5