Bad Santa

If you've had it with all that feel-good holiday sludge, hook up with the combustibly nasty Bad Santa. It could become a Christmas perennial for Scrooges of all ages. Billy Bob Thornton is sinfully funny as Willie T. Stokes, a butt-smoking, booze-swilling, hooker-screwing department-store Santa who hates the product-whoring "little shits" who sit on his lap. Why does he do it? He and his elf partner (Tony Cox) rob the malls every year — the elf crawls through the air vents — and live off the proceeds. Their new target is a store run by a prissy manager (the late John Ritter) and a hardass detective (Bernie Mac, hilarious just eating an orange). But then Willie meets a fat kid (Brett Kelly) living with his senile grandma (Cloris Leachman) and starts developing feelings. And maybe that kinky barkeep Sue (Lauren Graham, pissing on her goody Gilmore Girls image), who likes being shagged by men in Santa suits, is someone to settle down with.

Don't pout. It takes screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra until nearly the end of the movie to start throwing softballs. Until then, Thornton and director Terry Zwigoff (the master behind Crumb and Ghost World) deck the halls with comic toxicity. Still, you expect more of Zwigoff and the Coen brothers, who served as producers, than one joke repeated and reconfigured to diminishing returns. It's Thornton who pulls you over the bum spots. As slime personified, he's sublime.

From The Archives Issue 244: July 28, 1977