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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I like Bad Santa. It is completely ridiculous, and I love, love, love how subversive it is. It pointedly sends out a standard Christmas message, but the route it goes to do this is so completely dark and twisted, that it is utterly brilliant!
In Bad Santa, we find Willie, a mall Santa, who, with his dwarf partner, plan to rob the mall on Christmas Eve. Willie, who is on a self-destructive path, encounters a young boy, the Kid, and begins to form a strange bond with him, which is equally heartwarming and twisted.
Helping this along is that everyone works in their characters. Billy Bob Thornton completely owns his role as Willie, an alcoholic, womanizing, prone to rage mall Santa. With a lesser actor, the role would have turned into a parody of itself. Thornton never lets that happen. The late, great Bernie Mac turns in an amusing performance as the mall cop antagonist, and John Ritter delivers a loveable naïve mall manager in his final film appearance.
That said, the stand out of the cast is Brett Kelly as the Kid. I have mentioned before that child actors in lead roles can really make or break a movie. In this case, he totally makes it. Kelly gives such a subdued performance of someone who is hopelessly bullied, but continues to stay as positive as he can be. It is a strange balance to have. It is an extra impressive feat considering that he hardly speaks during the movie.
During most of Bad Santa, the laughs are there, but mostly just chuckle worthy. But every now and then, the film breaks out an unexpected belly laugh. Kind of like a Wes Anderson movie does (only less obnoxious). This is the type of comedy that works for me, because, even though the jokes are not rapid fire, the story is interesting and absurd just enough to keep me invested in what is going on.
Not everything works in Bad Santa. Some characters and plot points are causally discarded with the movie no longer requires them. The pacing can be a little off at times, and the film suffers from occasional tonal issues. But, you know what? None of that really bothers me. Despite its flaws, the movie works for me. I highly recommend it as a film you should watch at least once.