Everything about Bad Santa lives up to its name. Filled with mostly despicable characters, this holiday movie goes on my "naughty" list. It follows the misadventures of a foul-mouthed mall Santa, played by Billy Bob Thornton, who drinks constantly and can't control his bodily functions or sexual urges, even while on the job. He also uses obscene language while interacting with the kiddies sitting on his lap. Perhaps worst of all, he takes advantage of a pathetic youngster who befriends him.
Quite frankly, this film bummed me out. It's not so much the raunchy language and behavior. I'm almost immune to that in movies these days. But I did expect some laughs from a comedy based on such a promising concept -- how a cranky Santa and his unscrupulous partner elf steal from department stores during the Christmas season. What could have been a very funny flick becomes merely a hodgepodge of scenes showing characters boozing, cursing, and kicking each other in their private parts. (Granted, some members of the audience found that last activity hilarious.)
The waste of acting talent in this film also bothers me. Thornton remains stuck in a one-note portrayal throughout, as do Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, and John Ritter in their unsympathetic roles. Cox is the malicious midget helper, Mac an untrustworthy security worker, and Ritter (in his last screen appearance) a wishy-washy store manager. But Cloris Leachman emerges as the most misused actor of all. Playing a spaced-out granny, she's given only one line of dialogue -- which gets repeated ad nauseam. As an 8-year-old under bad Santa's spell, newcomer Brett Kelly looks like he wishes he were in a different movie. It probably took all the courage he could muster to tell Santa he wanted "a stuffed pink elephant" for Christmas.
Which brings us to the movie's massive script problem: nothing happening in Bad Santa seems within the realm of possibility. Call me picky, but -- unless the film is a fantasy -- I need situations depicted in movies to present some semblance of reality. Believable characters and scenes I can imagine might actually occur are important to me. In Bad Santa, I found it impossible to accept the premise that Thornton's mean-spirited character would attract a beautiful bartender (Lauren Graham) and become an idol for a youngster of any age. The robbery sequences also made no sense to me. Under normal circumstances, this duo would be caught quicker than they could say #%*&.
I realize movies featuring a grumpy character who undergoes a change of heart usually rank as favorites during the holiday season. Watching A Christmas Carol in any of its numerous versions always puts me in the Christmas spirit, and I can't help cheering when Ebenezer Scrooge finally discovers the joy of helping others -- no matter how many times I see it happen.
At the end of Bad Santa, redemption also comes for the main character -- but not for the movie itself.
(Released by Miramax/Dimension Films and rated "R' for pervasive language, strong sexual content and some violence.)