Bad Santa, good movie

As the Christmas commercialization trend shows no signs of ever slowing down, it’s appropriate that Yuletide films have evolved into a uniformly cynical genre. After all, you’d be hard-pressed these days to find anybody watching It’s a Wonderful Life or, worse yet, A Christmas Carol, with their families come Christmas Eve. Yep, the proud tradition of sugary-sweet holiday films has been bushwhacked by the likes of Bob Clark’s razor-sharp classic A Christmas Story and now, Bad Santa.

Originally conceived by the Cohen brothers, Bad Santa is the story of low-rent conman Willy (Billy Bob Thornton) who, with the help of his pint-sized sidekick (or do they prefer to be called dwarves?), has made a career of posing as a good-intentioned mall Santa for the holiday season at high-class shopping centres, casing the places for a Christmas Eve heist.

This year, however, the ploy threatens to unravel itself as Willy’s mid-life crisis sets in. How can an alcoholic, foul-mouthed, child-hating, incontinent, promiscuous criminal possibly act the part of Jolly Old Saint Nick?

When nervous-neddy mall manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter) becomes frustrated with Willy’s quickly degenerating appearance and wholly disrespectful treatment of the mall’s shoppers, he recruits mall security chief Gin (Bernie Mac) to dig up the dirt on the bad Santa.

The madcap comic setup isn’t the only thing the Cohens have given to Bad Santa. Writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have emulated the brothers’ blazing dialogue to a tee, although the raunch factor has been turned way, way up.

When an early conversation suddenly veers from dwarves to backdoor sex in a department store changing room, it’ll be hard to believe this film is from the same people who brought us O Brother, Where Art Thou? or even The Big Lebowski.

Not only is the dialogue unapologetically rude, but the title shot is a gleefully framed portrait of Billy Bob (in full Santa regalia) vomiting onto a wall in the back alley of a seedy pub.

Bad Santa’s overt tastelessness may turn away a lot of viewers, but be assured: those who appreciated previous Cohen comedies and can tolerate clever scatological humour (something I didn’t even realize existed until I saw this film) will get a lot of entertainment out of Bad Santa.

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