Bad Santa Review

Bad Santa’s accompanying featurette reveals the film’s outlook with its title, ‘Not Your Average Christmas Movie’. But then this perhaps goes without saying. Seasonal features are usually the perfect home for the lachrymose – consider the numerous musical adaptations of A Christmas Carol - but this is a Terry Zwigoff movie starring Billy Bob Thornton. The latter may balance out the mainstream and the more offbeat ventures (for every Coen brothers collaboration there’s a Love Actually as it were), yet Zwigoff directed Crumb and Ghost World, titles which, though one was documentary and the other fiction, were shot through with a wave of melancholy and piercing character observations. And Bad Santa errs from that path only slightly; it’ll still break your heart in places, but the governing factor is its all-out hilarity.

The setup is really quite simple, enough for the film to have been labelled “one-gag” in some corners. Thornton’s department store Santa is as a bad as the title suggests. An opportunist alcoholic who robs his employers every Christmas Eve, his opening voice-over describes himself thus: “I’ve been to prison once… had an eye socket punched in” and on the list goes. It’s important that we get this so soon as in doing so we’re able to take in a hefty dose of the sour before the sentimentality is allowed to take hold. That said, the sweeter side doesn’t have much fight in it. The kid who inevitably gets Thornton to change his boozy, misanthropic ways is fat, shat upon repeatedly (even by himself) and named Thurman Merman. He’s hardly the Xmas movie Hollywood moppet as typified by former Zwigoff star Thora Birch in the hideous All I Want For Christmas.

Instead we’re probably closest to Richard Donner’s Scrooged in Christmas movie terms. And it’s tempting to consider Bill Murray would have done with the central role as part of his current career renaissance. There is the possibility of him pulling it off, but it remains a small perhaps. Thornton demonstrates a far rougher hewn quality – had he and Murray been working in the fifties then no doubt he would have been off with Sam Fuller on various Korean War flicks, whilst Murray would be better suited to the laconic mood of a Frank Tashlin. In other words, Thornton possesses the greater believability. When he pisses his pants we’re stunned as well as laughing; the ‘bad’ of the title isn’t quite synonymous with evil or hopeless, but a greyer area in-between.

Of course, it’s this depth of character which is Zwigoff’s greatest strength. On paper the appearance of John Ritter and Bernie Mac a little way down the cast list may read like top notch cameos and nothing more. In Zwigoff’s hands, however, they become far richer than this. Ritter in particular is well used, portraying an embodiment of all the uptight PC values espoused by the standard Christmas flick (“He’s not going to say ‘fuck stick’ in front of the children is he?”) and therefore everything that Bad Santa stands against. Yet there’s also a greater humanity to go with this which has been retained from Crumb. Of course, Bad Santa is still a hugely funny film (the Margaret Thatcher gag being an unexpected delight) and the better choice of the two if you were to pick your Christmas viewing, but it shows that even as he is getting closer to the mainstream, Zwigoff hasn’t lost sight of his roots.

The Disc

Bad Santa comes to the UK in its “unrated” form. Moreover, it also comes with a fine presentation with which it is hard to find fault. Anamorphically transferred at a ratio of 1.78:1, it remains clean throughout and continually demonstrates the requisite clarity. Likewise, the colours come across as intended, though note that Zwigoff’s film doesn’t demonstrate the same ultra-vivid qualities which usually accompany such films. As for the soundtrack, here we find a DD5.1 mix which is equally fine. Coping just as well with the dialogue as it does the numerous Xmas tunes (which serves as ironic counterparts, of course), there really are no discernible flaws to speak of.

The extras, however, are fairly light for a studio picture. The featurette is your standard EPK offering despite the involvement of Zwigoff, Thornton and the Coen brothers in the film (the latter apparently coming up with the initial idea as well as serving as co-executive producers). The deleted/alternate scenes don’t really offer much of any particular note. And the outtakes are as you’d expect – John Ritter in particular proving almost helplessly amusing. Rounding off the package we also have a handful of trailers for other Sony releases.

The extras, were applicable, come with optional English and German subtitles.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
4 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 29/05/2018 02:50:18

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