Bad Santa (2003)

(In theaters, January 2004) Tired of the cloying psychological manipulation so pervasive during the holidays? Counter-program it with the meanest Christmas film since Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure. Here, Billy Bob Thornton plays a foul-mouthed, unkempt thief whose annual modus operandi involves playing along as a mall Santa while he and his diminutive accomplice scout the location for security weaknesses. So far so good, but it’s the utter disregard for any holiday sweetness that makes this film so enjoyable. “Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content and some violence”, indeed. Thornton’s performance is admirably foul, with Tony Cox and Bernie Mac all ably supporting (Meanwhile, Lauren Graham is adorable as a bartender with a Santa fetish). Heck, even the kid (Brett Kelly) is more creepy than he’s sympathetic, and that takes some guts nowadays. Suffice to say that for the longest time, the film refuses to bow to any kind of sentimental softening, faltering only at the end, at a point where even the most misanthropic viewer may be tempted to say that it’s about time. It is, in other words, a Christmas movie for those who are sick and tired of Christmas. Good fun, good jokes, a few uncomfortable moments redeemed by a few great lines and an overall sense of delightful nastiness. Strongly recommended for everyone likely to end up on Santa’s naughty list.

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