Bad Santa (2003) 2/5 (3)


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Rating: The Bad – 39.4
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 91 mins
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham

There’s no point wasting much time on the plot to this one because a quick scratch to the surface reveals it to be the empty suit of pseudo black comedy that it most certainly is. The jokes are stale, derivative, and as a result completely predictable. The laziest of ‘anti-pc’ devices are rolled out from a drunk Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) debasing himself in all manner of predictably unpredictable ways (this was all done before in Trading Places) to the writers’ “cheeky” use of a little person (sigh!) in the form of Tony Cox. Let’s just be clear: the jokes here are 1) a guy dressed up as someone we associate with a child’s innocence wets himself in front of those same children and 2) his partner is little and he uses bad language. This is not writing! These are nothing more than coarse unrefined concepts dropped into the movie like a lead weight. To illustrate, when Dan Aykroyd hits rock bottom dressed as a miserable self-soiled Santa in Trading Place, the contrast between what his suit symbolises and his personal state is not the joke. The joke is the transition from where he started to where he is now and the debasing Santa contrast is merely added to accentuate that transition. It’s the sauce. Bad Santa is all sauce – no meat and potatoes!

With such a low premium being placed on the writing in this film, the “story” takes on a very unreal feel as the writers attempt to jerry-rig a bunch of crude devices to generate laughs and emotion. The ultimate example of this is “the kid” (“played by” Brett Kelly). This is arguably the most artificial and contrived character *ever* written. There is nothing real or substantial about this child. He exists solely to tie all the crude ideas the writers had in mind together at one source – to create the semblance of structure. The result is this strange avatar moving throughout the picture completely devoid of human quality who at any one time is either coarsely and obviously reflecting the writers’ desires to shock the audience or coarsely and obviously reflecting their desire to prompt a cheap emotional response. So bizarre a construction is this kid that one wonders if the writers themselves are human. It seems logical to assume that at some point, Hollywood will be using software to churn this type of crap out so maybe they’ve already got there?

Bad Santa (like The Hangover) is the perfect example of Hollywood trying desperately and pathetically to imitate the more independent comedy film-makers but failing miserably because the spirit and commitment to the story just isn’t there. Black comedy and satire are among the more sophisticated forms of comedy not because of the dark humour but because of its implications for the wider story. Thus, writers of such comedy are not trying to be dark for the sake of it. They merely don’t mind going dark if the story calls for it. They don’t let morality get in the way of the story. Pseudo-black comedy arises out of a misinterpretation that black comedy is nothing more than gross out jokes and ‘anti-pc’ humour simply for the sake of it. If ever there was a clear-cut example of this, it is Bad Santa.

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