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Bad Santa

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Bad Santa
from Film Forum, 12/04/03

Film critics of all colors are trying to tell parents what the R-Rating already makes clear: Bad Santa is not a family movie.

Beyond that, however, they differ greatly on whether the movie is worthwhile for grownups. Acclaimed director Terry Zwigoff, who gave us the bittersweet documentary Crumb and the memorably melancholy teen drama Ghost World, has assembled here a curt retort to the onslaught of holiday movies that tell us how mean-spirited grownups can be redeemed by sweet-talking children. It also attacks the commercialization of the holiday.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie T. Stokes, a wicked, foul-mouthed, perverse man who works as a department store Santa while planning robberies on the side with his clever "elf" partner, a midget named Marcus. The movie focuses on a year when a nosy store manager (John Ritter) and a shopping mall detective (Bernie Mac) get in the way of this naughty Saint Nick's latest heist. Making things worse, a troubled 8-year-old (Brett Kelly) decides that Stokes is indeed the Santa that he needs.

"Parents, please do your homework on this one," says Michael Elliott (Movie Parables). "Even though the movie features a truckload of children, a Santa Claus, and a Christmas setting, your own kids have no business sitting through this perversely twisted R-rated film. The film is devoid of anything remotely resembling holiday cheer or spirit."

Many mainstreams critics, meanwhile, are celebrating the film as a worthwhile satire that scores points by relentlessly underlining the season's excessive holiday sentimentality.