Bad Santa – Director's Cut
B Sound: B- Extras: B- Film: B
first saw Bad Santa at a pre-release
screening a few years ago, I must admit I found it to be extremely nasty
and mean-spirited. It also didn't help that the print at the screening I
attended remained out of focus for the entire movie. But after recently
watching the new DVD Director's Cut of Bad Santa along with the director-unapproved Badder Santa DVD version, I've
belatedly come to appreciate the film as a darkly-humorous character study
of a seedy, ornery, deeply-depressed man.
by no means a traditional Christmas movie -- it makes 1988's
irreverent Scrooged seem like It's A Wonderful Life by comparison --
but underneath layers of anger, sarcasm, profanity and booze, Bad Santa ultimately reveals a soft
Billy Bob Thornton stars as a professional safecracker named Willie, who
wallows in a lowlife world of alcohol and strippers for 11 months out
of the year. But at the beginning of every holiday season he gets a call
from his crime partner, an acid-tongued dwarf named Marcus (Tony Cox).
a department store Santa and his elf helper at a different mall in a different
part of the country each holiday season, Willie and Marcus go through the motions
taking gift requests from youngsters as they case the place leading up to their
robbing the mall's safe on Christmas Eve. Their scheme has succeeded for
several years in a row, but every year it gets harder because Willie's
alcoholism only gets worse.
latest attempted heist takes them to Phoenix where Willie's foul mouth
immediately gets the pair on the wrong side of an uptight mall manager (John
Ritter in his final film role). Marcus, the brains of the duo,
continually lectures Willie on trying to hold it together, but to no avail.
he's taking a swig of an alcoholic beverage, smoking, swearing or having casual
sex in a mall changing room, Willie epitomizes everything a
department-store Santa shouldn't be. He also has no patience with children.
consistently rude behavior in front of little kids is what made me actively
turn against the film the first time I saw it. This aspect of the film is
still the most troubling, especially when Willie berates the mother of one
child for interrupting his lunch break, and later when he takes his
frustrations out on a holiday display in front of a group of on-looking
children during one drunken stupor. A lot of what's meant as funny in
these scenes is instead more sad and grotesque, especially when you consider
that Willie's uncouth behavior may frighten some of the children.
Willie's subtle redemption comes from his unlikely relationship with
one overweight 8-year-old kid who pays him a visit (Brett
Kelly). The kid, whose father is away serving a prison term,
lives in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with his senile grandmother
(Cloris Leachman) as his only guardian. Once Willie discovers the kid's
living arrangements, he decides to move in until it's time for the Christmas
Eve heist. The kid, who's regularly picked on by his peers, is so lonely
and desperate for a friend that he relishes even the presence of
someone as miserable and insulting as Willie, and continues to address his
drunken new houseguest as "Santa," much to Willie's chagrin.
role that Burt Reynolds or Jack Nicholson would have been equally at home
playing, Thornton delivers an interesting, unsentimental performance exuding a
realistic sense of embittered hopelessness. He smartly plays it straight
in what's ostensibly a comedy, albeit a very off-beat one, and
you can just see the frustration and despair in his face in nearly every
addition to the kid, who has a refreshingly natural, non-precocious presence,
and Cox, who delivers his obscenity-filled dialogue with gusto, the supporting
cast includes a very funny supporting turn by Bernie Mac as a constipated,
ill-tempered mall detective; Lauren Graham as a barmaid with a
man-in-a-Santa-Claus-suit fetish; Lauren Tom as Marcus' mail-order bride from
the Philippines who constantly has an amusing look of disdain on her face; and
let's not forget Ritter, who gives a delightful final big-screen performance as
a prissy, easily-rattled man of minor authority who's just
too mild-mannered and easily shocked to deal
with people this rough around the edges.
character who doesn't totally fit into the mix is Graham, who comes across as
too normal and well-adjusted to be drawn to someone as dysfunctional as
As he did
in Crumb and Ghost World, Zwigoff again shows affection for and draws humor
from outcasts on the fringe of society. His director's cut of Bad Santa runs 88 minutes, which
is about three minutes shorter than the theatrical cut and 10 minutes
shorter than the extended Badder Santa
cut. In most respects, Zwigoff's cut is slightly better, but it removes a
final shot from the other two versions that's hilarious; to see all of what was
shot, I recommend owning this new director's cut and the unrated Badder Santa version.
director's cut of Bad Santa is
presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Sound. The extras include a new audio commentary with director Zwigoff
and Editor Robert Hoffman, deleted and alternate scenes, a behind-the-scenes
featurette and outtakes.
the kid does on Willie, Bad Santa is
a movie that grows on you.
- Chuck O'Leary