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REVIEW: Bad Santa (Director’s Cut)

Bad SantaDirected by: Terry Zwigoff
Produced by: John Cameron, Sarah Aubrey, Bob Weinstein; The Coen Brothers (executive producers)
Written by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Edited by: Robert Hoffman
Cinematography by: Jamie Anderson
Music by: David Kitay
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, Brett Kelly, Lauren Tom, Cloris Leachman, John Ritter
Year: 2003

 

Perhaps the movie that was on my radar the longest, as far as holiday movies go, was Bad Santa, which was originally released all the way back when I was in high school, which also meant that I was absolutely unable to get a hold of a copy at the time, seeing as how I still lived at home, and I am not certain that the kind of comedy there within would have held up well should anyone even hear what was being uttered on screen, and it’s also not exactly the kind of film that, as I got older, would have been viewed in a family setting. It was in my queue for a while in all past Christmas Movie Months, never reaching me thanks to the stupid freaking “Long Wait” with Netflix and, may they rest in peace, Blockbuster. This year, however, I finally got my hands on a copy! Finally, I would gaze the apparent treasure that everyone else was raving about all that time ago (and even today)! I popped in the disc, and… there were two cuts: Bad(der) Santa, the unrated cut, and Bad Santa the director’s cut – but no theatrical cut.

Bad Santa (Director's Cut) - Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox

Having never faced such an odd situation (usually there’s either a single cut, a theatrical cut, or an alternative cut to complement the theatrical cut, but never have I seen two alternative cuts with no theatrical cut – “That’s some George Lucas-style shit!” I remember thinking), a quick internet search revealed that the surprisingly shorter Director’s Cut is, in fact, the director’s preferred version, pretty much free from the studio manipulation that altered the final product the first go around, and so that is why I’m reviewing that version. Of course, I also have no idea just yet how much it differs from the other two, but… you know, whatever.

If there were ever a formal award given away for the most anti of antiheroes, the award would almost undoubtedly be given to William T. Stokes, an unrepentant, drunken womanizer who poses, each year, as a mall Santa Claus alongside his elf partner in crime, Marcus (who’s actually a little person), and then robs the mall blind with his safe-cracking skills. The latest job takes them to Phoenix, Arizona, where William starts to reach the nadir of his pathetic existence, to Marcus’ frustration, as he frequently has to make excuses for William’s churlish behavior in front of the mall management and the paying customers – and the children they inexplicably allow to sit on his lap.

Bad Santa (Director's Cut) - Brett Kelly

One heavyset boy in particular, Thurman (last name Merman), latches onto William, despite William’s… everything… and inadvertently enables the mall Santa’s bad behavior, inviting William to take up residence and bring his bartending, Santa-fetishist girlfriend over in his own home and take advantage of all its accoutrements, while his senile grandmother sleeps in front of the TV and his parents… well, are somewhere. But not there, that’s for sure. On top of William’s somehow further decline in work ethic and his continuing plunge into a persistent state of intoxication, further complicating matters are mall security head Gin Slagel and, to a lesser extent, Bob Chipeska, who seem to be on to the two thieves in varying degrees.

Bad Santa (Director's Cut) - Billy Bob Thornton and Lauren Graham

Bad Santa is not at all a family film, despite the presence of the Jolly One’s name being in the title and a doe-eyed child among the supporting cast, but if you’re looking for a film that will make you feel good without all the typical artificial sweetness so commonly found in Christmas movies, this film can certainly go alongside Christmas Vacation for being your go-to remedy to that all too prevalent malady.

But that’s not to say that the film is completely devoid of any sort of redemption, either. Billy Bob Thornton and Brett Kelly, the newcomer who plays Thurman, have a great comedic chemistry, and even when William is swearing and growling at this strange kid who seems to take the worst abuse in stride, Thornton somehow manages to make it… endearing… perhaps because the movie also allows for William to have a shred of humanity behind his being such a pathetic and abrasive creature. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that even an awkward, obviously troubled little boy can provide the nastiest film with a healthy dose of holiday spirit. This would almost be like a Charles Dickens story if Dickens had recognized a deeper psychological scarring that informed Scrooge’s miserly ways, only here Scrooge is a disgusting, drunken conman.

Bad Santa (Director's Cut) - Billy Bob Thornton

Its humor is frequently mean-spirited and, well, rude, to put it lightly – to the point where I kind of wonder just how far the unrated cut goes (As I said before, I didn’t bother watching the second version this first time around, but I’ll likely end up buying this movie at some point, anyway). The film is certainly unconventional, fairly shocking, and its hero is undoubtedly unrepentant, and yet the film is still oddly heartwarming in the right amounts, as a Christmas comedy is generally expected to be. The language, liquids, and subject matter spewed out will undoubtedly shock many who treat Santa with any sort of reverence this time of year, but for those who can get past all that (or, even better, actually see the dark humor in what it provides), Bad Santa will prove to be a welcome lump of coal in the stocking of those who have been left out in the cold when it comes to the often unbearably corny Christmas cheer present in other movies.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

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