A Christmas movie to watch once the kids are safely tucked up in bed, “Bad Santa” is not for the easily offended. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie Soke, a washed up, bitter con man who spends his Christmases working as mall Santa so that he and his heist partner Marcus (Tony Cox) can rob the Mall after it closes on Christmas Eve then disappear.
Willie is not a pleasant man, an alcoholic, foul-mouthed sex addict whose bad habits are starting to get in the way of his ability to keep up the Santa schtick, much to Marcus’ annoyance. When Willie swears he’s done with the whole routine, Marcus predicts he’ll blow through the money from their latest job and be desperate for work the following Christmas. The pair head to Phoenix, Arizona to work in a mall run by a prudish mall manager who doesn’t take Willie’s swearing and drunken, dishevelled appearance well. As they begin their well-practiced operation, they encounter a streetwise and crooked mall security chief, a Santa-groupie barmaid and Thurman, a naïve young boy who will change Willie’s life forever.
The whole film is a sleazy, gross-out comedy take on the festive period and Billy Bob Thornton is terrific as Willie and, despite the meanness, profanity and his general unpleasant behaviour, manages to keep the character likeable and throughout the whole thing, you’ll find yourself rooting for him. The late John Ritter, to whom the film is dedicated, is perfect as the prudish Mall Manager who instantly regrets his decision to hire Willie and Marcus but can’t bring himself to fire them, especially when the Mall Security Chief, played by Bernie Mac, clears them of wrongdoing, intending to get a cut of the action himself.
But if your opinion of “Bad Santa” stops there and you’ve never seen it because it’s not your kind of movie, then you’re missing out on one of the sweetest ‘meaning of Christmas’ stories ever made. For all its gratuitous language, nudity and grossness, “Bad Santa” is a classic tale of Christmas redemption and the burgeoning relationship between Willie and Thurman is the unexpectedly tender heart and soul of this film. Their interactions are not only hilarious but also genuinely heartfelt and affecting and although Willie starts out by exploiting Thurman and his grandmother, the arrangement gradually becomes something much more.
Because of its adult tone, “Bad Santa” may never make it onto the all-time Christmas classics list, but it’s a rich fruitcake of filthy comedy, sparky performances and the most Christmassy of Christmas endings.