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It turns out that there are some things which, unlike puppies, aren’t for life; they’re just for Christmas. For example, canny marketing men have long-since discovered that no-one really wants to watch festively themed movies in the balmy months of summer. No, it’s best to wait towards the end of the year before they hit the cinema so everyone is feeling decidedly Christmassy. And ditto for the DVD. Problem is, when those films are not afforded a worldwide simultaneous release, things tend to slow down even further. This would explain why in 2005, region two consumers are finally being treated to the DVD of Bad Santa, a film that reached stateside cinemas two years earlier.

Bad Santa
Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is rude, obnoxious and decidedly grumpy but, for one month of every year, he earns his money as a department store Santa Claus. Suffice to say, he’s not a particularly jolly Santa; he couldn’t care less what the kids want for Christmas and he’d rather just get drunk with his trusty elf, Marcus (Tony Cox). On these frequent trips to the bar, the pair will plan how they’ll acquire their income for the coming New Year; by robbing the stores that employ them. Things are going smoothly, until Willie encounters a crisis of conscience in the form of a neglected young boy with the wonderful name of Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly)…  

Many critics will tell you that Bad Santa isn’t your typical Christmas movie. On the contrary; it is your typical Christmas movie. If you discount the bad language and mild sexual content, you’re left with a fairly traditional tale of festive redemption, previously seen in The Grinch, Family Man and countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol. This, rather tired, plot is perhaps the film’s major failing; we’ve been here way too many times before.

A further problem is that the film really is a one-joke affair. Willie is rude, insufferable and frequently intoxicated, but characters like this are commonplace in movies and are rarely ever hilarious. This film attempts to stir things up by putting the obnoxious drunk in a position that is entirely inappropriate. Once you’ve realised that the reason the behaviour of the character is so outrageous is, simply, because he’s wearing a familiar red costume, the laughs don’t come quite so easily.

Bad Santa
The film’s appeal must, therefore, rest on its cast and it is fortunate that it’s, largely, a good one. Thornton seems to be truly enjoying himself in the title role which is not surprising considering Hollywood folklore claims that he was inebriated for much of the filming. He’s ably supported by Lauren Graham as his sparky love-interest Sue, while Brett Kelly as Thurman manages to be endearing without being nauseating. Less successful are John Ritter and Bernie Mac. Ritter’s role was his last before his untimely death but like Mac, his character is woefully underwritten.

Bad Santa is not a bad film. However, the problem with movies is that the bad ones tend to be rather more memorable than the mediocre. As a result, this is largely forgettable stuff and, despite some wonderful one-liners, can’t quite escape from a lifeless narrative and broad characterisation.

There is a rather pleasing contrast between the day-glow appearance of Santa’s winter wonderland and the musty bars that he frequents when he’s not listening to children describe their potential presents. This DVD showcases both locations reasonably well, with minimal aliasing and an absence of artefacts. Unfortunately, contrasting colours (particularly the levels of black) aren’t well presented and there’s a general lack of sharpness throughout.

Bad Santa
A 5.1 Dolby track is more than adequate for such a dialogue-heavy film and, you’ll be pleased to know, that all those charming four-letter words are crisp and clear. The rear speakers are not used prominently, but music and sound effects are well presented through the front channels. Overall, this adds to a solid audio performance and a simple, yet satisfying, work-out for your surround sound system.

A featurette concerning the making of the film appears to be the main highlight of the extras, although this is a very light-weight affair offering minimal insight in its ten minute runtime. All of the key-personnel are present and correct, although one wishes that the DVD had been treated to a proper documentary rather than this flimsy promotional piece.  

The deleted scenes are a bit of a mixed bag, although there is a very interesting sequence at Santa School where it appears that Willie is not the only one who doesn’t take the job seriously. The remainder were, sadly, better left on the cutting room floor.

It appears that the cast and crew had a pretty good time filming the movie as the outtakes contained within a four minute reel invariably end with a lot of laughter and banter. There are some particularly nice bloopers courtesy of the late John Ritter.

Finally, there are a couple of trailers for White Chicks and Suspect Zero. Despite the proclamation that both of these movies are 'coming soon', they both arrived in DVD stores long before this release.

Bad Santa
There are some good laughs but, ultimately, the movie is a slight disappointment and uninspiring extras fail to enliven the DVD. Considering that you’ll be less inclined to give this disc a spin during the warmer months of the year, renting seems preferable to a blind purchase.