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3 Stars Movies

Bad Santa utterly wallows in its bah-humbug tone

This from the director of Crumb and Ghost World?

The big pleasure of Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa is definitely that it utterly wallows in a bah-humbug tone, a welcome tonic to the seemingly perpetual holiday season. I write this in June, and I’m afraid to so much as blink, lest the plastic Santas and X-mas lights materialize in the nanosecond my eyes are closed.

Billy Bob Thornton is gleefully repugnant as the comman Willie, making little or no attempt to make his character sympathetic. And yet he is somehow attractive, shown entertaining numerous one-night stands, and ultimately connecting with a decent woman (if alcoholic and a little crazy). After all, the viewer is reminded that Willie is played by the man that married Angelina Jolie, so there is clearly something there.

Glimpses of humanity do peek through, if colored by his terrible personality and backstory. For example, when the Thurman (Brett Kelly) denigrates himself, Willie explodes in profanity, extorting him not to think about himself that way.

Willie’s partner Marcus (Tony Cox) initially seems similarly roguish, in fact the wit and brains of the duo. In a reversal that fatally breaks the comic tone of the film, he is revealed as a cruelly callous criminal psychopath when he outright murders Gin (Bernie Mac). So that makes Willie more sympathetic by subtraction — only because he doesn’t murder, and proves himself at least somewhat capable of forming friendships.

Unexpected and ultimately short-fused is the eventual turn towards the sappy and sentimental. Bad Santa‘s happy ending, partly told through voiceover) betrays the tone of the movie and even leads me to suspect some post-production tinkering.

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