The man who wasn’t there

Billy Bob Thornton is disturbing enough without dressing up as Santa Claus.

Tom Horgen

As the title character in “Bad Santa,” Billy Bob Thornton is what cynicism looks like when fully realized into a fleshy, organic


Bold. Seething. And in this case, deadly funny. He is cynicism with a demon’s tongue, profanity with a purpose.

Terry Zwigoff, the director of “Ghost World” and “Crumb,” has crafted a profoundly vulgar film – one that declares war on Christmas. At the center of the shelling is Thornton’s character, a drunken Santa who robs the very department stores he and his elf partner work at during the holiday season. Given Santa’s bleak attitude, it’s the kids who sit on his lap that get the brunt of his


The film’s plot is a hilarious reaction to the way consumerism has turned a religious holiday into – simply put – the part of the year our economy depends on the most. This celebration of consumption gets a swift kick in the pants as Santa shows up to work with bottle in hand, pissing himself and with plans to rob these centers of consumer fervor.

The film’s vulgarity only serves to drive home its disgust, illustrated through an endless supply of absurd moments. A few of the humbug sequences include: Santa servicing a woman obsessed with his red and white costume, Santa attempting suicide and Santa enraged by a scene-stealing fat kid who adores him.

The film is fascinating because it dares to be as offensive as possible to get its point across. Incidentally, much of its profanity could be seen as racist, sexist and homophobic in a less intelligent film, but in “Bad Santa,” it works. It’s funny. The film’s willingness to go to the edge of bad taste without falling over is a testament to its mastery of satire. And not surprisingly, the script, written by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, is based on an idea by the Coen brothers, those brokers of human folly.

“Bad Santa” guts the innocence of the holly jolly holiday like few films have. And while many of us, Christian or not, bicker every year about the consumerist grip that strangles this “season of giving,” rarely do you see cynics, bullhorn in hand, publicly protesting in mall parking lots.

Well, here’s your bullhorn. Use it wisely, though, because even this film – one filled with so much venom – eventually reveals its soft underbelly. And why wouldn’t it?

It only critiques because it cares.