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Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is a drunk, self-loathing, bitter man and once a year he dons a Santa costume and sits in a mall listening to children telling him what they want for Christmas.

 Bad Santa
Working alongside him is his dwarf friend, Marcus (Tony Cox), but all is not what it seems with their festive activities. Willie and Marcus, with a little help from Marcus’s wife, Lois (Lauren Tom), spend the days leading up to Christmas Eve working out how to rob the mall and make off with the big Christmas take.

This year, Willie is worse than ever. His drinking problem hitting an all time low and his couldn’t-care-less attitude causes daily problems for Marcus in the planning of this year’s robbery. Then along comes a kid (Brett Kelly) who doesn’t look upon Willie as a drunk grouchy loser, but actually embraces him as a friend and this year, Willie might just learn to enjoy Christmas.

Now reading that synopsis back, it might make Bad Santa sound like a very typical Christmas movie about someone learning their lesson in a very Scrooge-like way but Bad Santa really isn’t that obvious. Billy Bob Thornton plays the lead role as a vile, mean, angry man, who couldn’t care less if he lived or died and seemingly spends his days happening upon opportunities for anal sex and getting so drunk he falls unconscious. He pees himself while sat in his Santa chair (between kids coming to sit on his lap), he steals cars, and basically takes every opportunity he can to get his hands on some cash. To call this role a dark one, is an understatement. This is a very bad Santa. Yet somehow, Billy Bob manages to make Willie sort of fun to be around. The smallest of sign of goodness in him just makes him endearing and the relationship between him and this tubby and innocent kid who treats Willie as if he’s the real Santa Claus is a thing of understated greatness.

 Bad Santa
Outside of this main relationship there is also a great deal of funny in the supporting cast. Criminal mastermind Marcus is chocked full of fantastic lines and his attitude towards his partner in crime is hilarious. Sue, the local bar-maid with a Santa fetish played by the deliciously-cute Lauren Graham, feels genuine, despite Billy Bob’s indifference and being a character movie gals don’t fall in love with. Then there’s Bernie Mac. I was never the biggest of Bernie Mac fans, but his role as the security chief here is a classic. Not only is he funny, but it’s done in such an offbeat way that even the slightest reaction to the other characters in the scene becomes a chuckle fest. His negotiations with Marcus over getting ‘half’ of the take are a prime example of this and all of the stuff with the 'uncomfortable with everything' Mall Manager (John Ritter) is just absolute comedy gold.

What I like most about Bad Santa, outside of some of the most perfectly delivered abuse in movie history (‘I’m on my fucking lunch break’) is just how much of the emotion is going on under the surface. The small realisations in Billy Bob’s performance at some of the damage he’s doing, or the small steps he’s taking towards actually caring, are all handled with such realism, despite being bang in the centre of a story dealing with a guy so messed up on self destruct mode that it’s almost difficult to watch in places. The closing scenes are filled with so much real heart, it’s hard not to feel for Willie or hold onto that small glimmer of hope that his realisation is strong enough to bring him back from the edge. Bad Santa is just a movie that I love and a great alternative to the stockings full of sickly sweet Christmas movies on offer. It’s funny, it’s dark and is just a movie that I can’t fault.

 Bad Santa

Video


I really have to stop going into certain movies with the thought that they won’t do anything to impress me. When I got Bad Santa, I really just wrote it off as being a movie that wouldn’t do anything to wow me on the HD format. How very wrong I was. Bad Santa looks absolutely amazing.

The first thing that struck me was just how gloriously presented the colours were. In the opening bar scene there are a number of different reds on offer, Santa suit red, a darker red on the paper napkins and yet another red on the hanging decorations. Each one popped off of the screen with a bright bold sharpness. Then as the movie progresses, I noticed just how clean the image was. Nothing seemed to have been too played with in post production, so many of the colours and textures felt as if they were presented naturally and the lighting of movie really added a nice Christmassy glow to everything.

There were also some small moments that really showed off the power of HD. Take a look at the mist of Bernie Mac's orange as he peels it or the layers in Billy Bob's varying stubble growth. It's all presented in fantastic detail and really shows off just how much better this upgrade is.

 Bad Santa
I noticed the smallest amount of grain in some shots but nothing more than a blink and you’ll miss it basis and beyond that this is really a transfer that impressed the hell out of me.

Audio


There’s nothing really on offer in the audio department here, beyond some of the classic Christmas tunes popping up every now and again. That said, what the movie sets out to do, it does very well. Dialogue is very clear and strong. The slight atmospheric sounds in the mall feel natural and sit in the surrounds nicely and all in all this was a nice audio presentation.

Extras


Well this is a Sony disc, so we'll get the obligatory Men in Black trailer out of the way first, along with the Blu-ray sizzle reel and 21, oh and the new addition to the Sony Trailer must haves, Hancock. They do love advertising their Big Willie movies.

 Bad Santa
Onto the Bad Santa related stuff, we get a very short and sweet ‘Not Your Typical Christmas Movie’ featurette (09:29) which is essentially the tiniest of making ofs and lets us in on the cast choosing to do the movie and how it was based on a one-line idea from the Coen Brothers.

There's a deleted scenes reel (08:57) which has a few extended moments and a Santa School from Sarah Silverman. Also, there’s a blooper reel (04:02).

That’s pretty much it, other than the BD-Live selection, which every time I go on one of these, just leaves me even colder to it. Sony BD-Live is slow, annoying and when you do get onto the menus it’s hard to stay bothered because it’s just so bland. I’m not sure about everyone else’s feelings on this, but I really hope they make more of this sort of thing in the future.

 Bad Santa

Overall


Bad Santa kicks off my season of Christmas movies and frankly it sets one hell of a benchmark. It’s packed with some fantastic performances with Billy Bob Thorton leading it all with his usual greatness.

The Blu-ray has one hell of a transfer and some nice audio and whilst it’s a little thin on the extras, I still whole heartedly recommend Bad Santa to anyone who wants a comedy that deals with the darker side of Christmas.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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