Review: Bad Santa (2003)

>> Saturday, January 27, 2007

USA/C-91 m./Dir: Terry Zwigoff/Wr: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa/Cast: Billy Bob Thornton(Willie T. Soke), Tony Cox (Marcus), Brett Kelly (Thurman Merman), Lauren Graham (Sue), Bernie Mac (Gin), John Ritter (Bob Chipeska)

For those of us of the “bah, humbug” crowd that find sugarcoated holiday fare intolerable, Bad Santa provides the perfect 100 proof antidote. This laugh-out-loud dark comedy is simply the funniest film to be produced so far this decade; and it can proudly stand head-to-head with the best work of W.C. Fields.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie T. Soke, a small-time safecracker who, with his dwarf partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), takes a job each year as a department store Santa Claus and elf combo, in order to case the business they plan to rob. Although the scheme has resulted in several big scores, Willie has become unreliable over the years due to his drinking. The pair has a hard time staying inconspicuous, because the sham Santa isn’t a good-natured drunk like Dudley Moore’s Arthur. He’s a bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, suicidal, pissing-his-pants drunk. If the heist wasn’t complicated enough, it doesn’t help that Willie can’t shake a weird, fat kid (Brett Kelly) who still believes in Santa Claus.

Thankfully, this is not the type of film where a grumpy adult learns the true meaning of Christmas from a loveable waif. Bad Santa is vile, depraved, gross, and at times near tragic, but the film manages to get away with its dark subject matter, because it is balanced with uproarious dialogue and situations. It’s a shame that this type of film never wins awards, because Thornton, Cox, and John Ritter all deliver Oscar-caliber performances. If you hate Christmas or you just love liquored laughs, Bad Santa will have you in hysterics for days after viewing it.

Drinks Consumed--Bourbon, beer, and vodka (straight and screwdrivers)

Intoxicating Effects--Swearing, staggering, stumbling, vomiting, public urination, soused sex, passing out, the shakes, public disturbance, destruction of property, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--WILLIE: You can’t drink worth a shit. You know that?
MARCUS: I weigh 92 pounds, you dick.

Video Availability--Three versions of the film are available on Buena Vista DVD: Bad Santa, Badder Santa, and Bad Santa: Director's Cut. Badder Santa is the longest of the bunch, adding seven minutes of equally amusing footage to the theatrical cut. The Director’s Cut is actually three minutes shorter than the theatrical version, but it does contain alternative material that was not available in the previous versions. Overall, Badder Santa is the preferred version, but the Director’s Cut is an interesting curiosity for fans of the film. The Bad Santa Blu-ray disc includes both the Badder Santa and Director's Cut versions.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Coach Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) of The Bad News Bears (1976) also mixed kids and alcohol with amusing results, so it wasn’t surprising that Billy Bob agreed to put his stamp on the role in the 2005 remake.


Reel Fanatic January 28, 2007 at 5:53 AM  

Billy Bob Thornton is the consummate screen drunk for me, and this movie is his Citizen Kane of obnoxious drunkenness ... a pure joy

garv January 28, 2007 at 9:09 AM  

Reel Fanatic,

Welcome to Booze Movies! With BAD SANTA, BAD NEWS BEARS, THE ICE HARVEST, and more, Billy Bob is staring to build a nice firewater-fueled filmography.

tom o January 30, 2007 at 1:40 PM  

Slingblade counts as being drunk too!

P-Dizzle January 31, 2007 at 9:41 AM  

It takes a fortified boozehole to pull off a picture like this.

Waaay darker than I thought it would be, but best of all--uncompromising.

Any plans to commemorate Shakes the Clown? one of my all-time faves.

garv January 31, 2007 at 5:00 PM  

I'll get around to SHAKES eventually. There are easily enough alky films to keep me busy for a couple of years.

Anonymous January 31, 2007 at 5:07 PM  

God I loved this movie. I'd say it goes in my personal top booze comedies of all time, coming in just behind, say, Withnail and Drunken Master II.

garv January 31, 2007 at 10:12 PM  


Glad to see the mention of Wong Fei-Hung, the greatest alky action hero of them all. The Drunken Master series may warrant a "toast" as well as individual film reviews, especially since the original spawned a slew of copycat drunken boxing films in Hong Kong.


Anonymous February 2, 2007 at 4:54 PM  

Speaking of Wong Fei-Hung, here's a "Once Upon a Time in China" drinking game:

Every time someone says 'Wong Fei-Hung', one shot.

Every time the movie comments on the tragicness of that period of Chinese History, two shots.

M. Carter @ the Movies February 19, 2010 at 2:06 PM  

One of my all-time favorite soused films ... and by the way, Willie T. Soke is just about the best name for a hopeless drunk I've ever heard.

Oh, and great blog! I found it through 600 Movie Blogs You Might Have Missed.

garv February 20, 2010 at 12:44 AM  

M. Carter,

It was fitting that they used a name like Willie T. Soke, because it brought to mind the wonderfully inventive character names of W.C. Fields. BAD SANTA definitely owes a debt to Fields' work, in that he blazed the way for drunken misanthropy on film.

By the way, I checked out your blog, and it is also quite entertaining.


468X60 RENTAL - James Stewart Animated Gif (44kb)

About Me

My photo
I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

  © Blogger templates Romantico by 2008

Back to TOP