Tuesday, December 02, 2003

REVIEW: Bad Santa

Seen 30 November 2003 at AMC Fenway #9 (first-run)
* * * (out of four)

First, a rant about AMC Fenway's pricing - $7.50 for a matinee? $3 for a small soda? (which, to be fair, seems to be about the same size as a Loews medium). That's something like $1.25 more than at Boston Common, and the presentation isn't that much better. The reports that AMC and Loews are considering a merger should scare all of us, especially if it means the good things about Loews (Weekday Escape tickets, Fandango.com vs. MovieTickets.com, spiffy indie programs like Shooting Gallery and Sundance) fall by the wayside along with semi-reasonable pricing.

OK... The movie itself. It's one I'd been looking forward to, what with it being produced by the Coen Brothers, directed by Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World), and starring funny people like Billy Bob Thornton, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, and Alex Cox. Thornton playing Willy, an alcoholic department store Santa who robs his place of employ along with an elf accomplice every year, is a funny notion. It's a sort of variation on his character from The Man Who Wasn't There, only with his contempt for himself this time eclipsing his contempt for the rest of the world.

This year, though, he runs into a couple of people who inexplicably like him. One's a bartender (Lauren Graham) with a Santa fetish; the other is a fat kid who may just be the retard that other kids taunt him for being. Indeed, none of the characters aside from Cox's (who can get into small places while Willy cracks the safes) are really that bright, but this isn't really a moron movie. It's more about how basically selfish people and basically decent people handle each other.

Don't look for anyone to learn the true meaning of Christmas - Zwigoff isn't the kind of hypocrite who would serve something sanctimonious up after letting the audience revel in bad taste for an hour and a half. A good deal of the fun of this movie is watching Willy do things you would secretly want to do in his situation, but you never feel jealous because he's so pathetic; that would feel hollow if Willy were to suddenly feel bad about what he does. This movie's cynical to the end, although it manages that without being completely heartless.

Still, leave the kids at home. There's sex, swearing, and just about every form of depravity and bad behavior you can think of, most committed while wearing a Santa suit.

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