“Bad Santa” is that late night slot you never let the kids watch. The black comedy, which didn’t fight hard to become a staple in any (adult) Christmas lover’s film list is here. Starring a naughty Billy Bob Thornton and his helping hand Tony Cox, this disastrous flick of mischievous scheming was directed by small-time player Terry Zwigoff. Although a fair number of movies have nudged Yule under the ribs, this gem takes my first-place prize with welcoming and slightly intoxicated hands.
Robbery duo Willie and Marcus (Thornton & Cox respectively) are the jubilant scam artists to watch out for in the months of Noel. Taking guise as Santa and his trusty elf, the two travel cross country, terrorising malls with their thieving clutches. Having targeted a fictional shopping centre in Phoenix, Arizona, their gears are set in motion for the next lucrative heist. But although everything seems to be going smoothly, soon enough each faces an unusual and hilarious challenge. Willie makes acquaintance with a boy called Thurman, intending to milk the family’s available resources of cash and spacious housing. Marcus, on the other hand, is forced to deal with a snooping Gin Slagel, the mall’s own manager, who knows exactly what the two performers are headed to do. When the big night comes along and clocks strike midnight, maybe affinity and compassion will prevail after all, catching the cold feet of misery. Perhaps Christmas has a force over the most rigid of souls and Willie can find a beating heart under that saggy red robe. Thurman will face the aftermath of transformation just as much as Willie himself.
Firstly, it has to be mentioned Billy Bob Thornton is the human personification of badassery. Scruffy beard meats high cheekbones and a pair of torpid brown eyes, whilst itself sporting equal parts white and black tint. The actor’s reputation as a Hollywood bad boy only adds to the fantasy of Willie. Drinking, swearing, vomiting and sodomising are just the first few items on a long hobby list. Despite an admirable diligence towards a life of crime, his shrivelled, raisin of a heart undergoes unimaginable changes through the course of this scam. Thornton’s reluctancy towards being productive in any shape or form comes in a frighteningly natural fashion, but so does sympathy and kindness.
Thurman becomes a mighty reason for change. He demonstrates the purest of innocence through an endless stream of questions for the pretend Santa. While maintaining the bars of both hilarity and annoyance, we can spot the daunting reason why. A house without a family, add a lethargic grandmother and social bullying, then subtract companionship and care. What do you get? A lonely, little boy. However, there’s more to Thurman than golden locks and naïvety. He peals the layers away like a ripe, human onion. Feel free to quote that sentence, no royalty charge will be taken.
Marcus is an indecisive mixture between loyal partner and selfish felon. Moving in a tandem with his shoplifting girlfriend Lois, he proves nothing will stop the plan’s flawless execution, not even Gin. This double-crossing, orange-peeling mess of an egocentric variety gets on board the fraud train as soon as profits comes into the picture.
Props have to be given Peter Baynham’s way for co-writing the script with no reservations towards intentional or otherwise offence to common sensibilities. Willie has been created with the sole purpose of treating others like dirt and his crack-fast comebacks demonstrate this with vigour.
Thurman succeeds in creating a true relationship with the man who holds no connection with reality. Willie’s defences are slowly, but sure torn down, melted by the boy’s genuine fascination and wonder. On the crucial night of Christmas he’ll experience painful sobriety, love, betrayal, empathy and even some gun shots, but the path was never going to be easy. I would recommend a generous serving of sticky pecan buns with a touch of gingerbread crumbles on top.
Treat yourself to a naughty film this Christmas. Life’s too short for staying nice all the time, am I right? Am I… Am I right…