Is Santa Claus a sacred image in our society? People - and
when I say people I really mean Disney executives so I don't
know if the phrase is proper - are pretty upset with the film
Bad Santa and its depiction of a man playing the jolly
old elf who as a drunken criminal with the mouth of a sailor
and a lust for backdoor violations. Disney is mad because
the film was produced by Miramax, their subordinate studio.
(I'm constantly amused when Disney gets upset whenever Miramax
releases a film that raises a few eyebrows. It's almost like
the Mouse Ears never watched Clerks when the term "blowjob"
was uttered 37 times in a five minute duration or the pawn
shop sex of Pulp Fiction. What were they expecting
I wonder?) First of all, Eisner and Co's accusation that this
undermines the whole meaning of Christmas seems a bit harsh.
This is a guy playing Santa at a mall, not Santa himself at
the North Pole. Besides, didn't 1947's Miracle on 34th
Street show us not only a drunken department store Santa
but also one being tested for mental deficiencies? Plus, attacking
sacred images should be a bonus. Isn't pushing the envelope
of touchy issues the point of great comedy anyway? But the
problem with Bad Santa is that there is no point
to any of the dialogue or behavior that allegedly pushes these
envelopes. This very easily could have been a film about the
lost meaning of the holiday or about the redemption of a character
in a desperate situation. The end result could have been funny
or, at the very least, function as an interesting character
piece. But all the audience gets are a series of vulgar sight
gags and verbal grenades that exist for no other purpose than
to "shock and disgust" the "bourgeois sensibility"
of "hapless multiplex sheep." The film represents
a significant misstep for everyone involved- from actors Billy
Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac to listed co-producers Joel and
Ethan Coen. Everyone except director Terry Zwigoff that is,
who now gets to unleash his hateful form of sexual dysfunction
on crowds outside the art-house circuit. It may not be a lump
of coal, but it certainly is a lump of something.
Bad Santa is about Willie (Thornton) and Marcus (Tony
Cox), two con artists who travel around the country posing
as a mall Santa and elf respectively as a way of gaining access
to merchandise and store vaults after hours. They end up in
a bland Phoenix suburb and encounter suspicious manager Bob
Chipeska (John Ritter in a final performance that makes his
work in the first two Problem Child films look like
legit choices), suspicious mall security chief Gin (Bernie
Mac) and The Kid (Brett Kelly), a fat loser who lives with
his near-dead grandma (A mercifully uncredited Chloris Leachman)
that Willie uses but eventually comes to respect. I think?
Maybe he doesn't but it doesn't really matter to the film
anyway. Here's what matters: Willie is always wearing his
Santa outfit even when he's not at work. So, he gets drunk
in the Santa outfit in order to show up for work drunk in
the Santa outfit. He also likes to have sex in the Santa outfit
as well. But not just run-of-the-mill sex; we're talking anal
sex. With women who have plentiful asses. And lot's of it.
The movie is virtually obsessed with this idea. The line,
"You won't shit right for two weeks" is uttered
on more than a couple of occasions. Perhaps there is a large
subset of women out there who have a fetish that requires
a man wearing a Santa outfit to plug them where the sun don't
shine. But my guess is that someone sick really dug the image
of Billy Bob thrusting away with that hat on. Plus, he cusses
a lot. He really likes to say "Jesus Christ", which
I'm sure is some desperate attempt to jab at other images
associated with the holiday. And he likes to say "fuck",
too. A lot. Bad Santa thinks a man in a Santa outfit
saying "fuck" a lot is funny in the same way Death
to Smoochy thought it was funny for people who acted on
children's television to say "fuck" a lot as well.
But is that word really all that shocking anymore? People
use the term so often that it almost loses it's cursing power.
(South Park nicely illustrated this when they said
the word "shit" almost two hundred times in one
episode. By the end, nobody cared.) There must be something
more to it than that in this film. And may someone explain
the concept of the sassy midget to me? Are midgets funny because
they're small and we can laugh at their physical capacity?
Is it like old people in Sandler films or am I missing a larger
point other than sick superiority? Because Cox gets a lot
of mileage out of his size here. People laugh; I guess I'm
just out of it. Maybe there is something going on in this
film I can't put my finger on.
It would be one thing if Bad Santa was something more
than just a group of sick jokes strung along. If this were
a commentary on the bad thoughts of the holiday season or
this allowed us some insight to the characters and their sick
behavior, then that would be something else. Why does Willie
get a kick out of wearing his Santa outfit while having sex?
Was there some sort of repression deep from childhood still
following him around? And look at Bob the mall manager. Is
there something about his sex life that seems to charge him
up when he hears about Willie's exploits? Is there a connection
between Gin's constipation and how he handles sexual deviance?
Perhaps I ask too much of Bad Santa, but it's psychology
seems to demand it. Zwigoff loves soft-focusing on those big
butts and he seems to linger over every uttering of "cock"
or "pussy". But did I mention the "wooden pickle"?
Okay, The Kid bloodies up his hand trying to make this shop
project-looking gift for Willie. This bloody "wooden
pickle" is then used by Willie supplement his "tired
unit" later on in the film. Is there anyone else out
there disturbed by this? I don't even know if it's meant to
be funny since the shock value is the primary concern. And
what's worse is the intention of Zwigoff's work here. Two
years ago, Zwigoff directed Ghost World, a film that
most film critics lauded because of its look at metropolitan
despair and the relationship between oddballs. First of all,
this Ghost World of modern life was nothing different than
what Eric Bogosian has written a million times before or that
Tim Burton didn't imagine through a few clever pieces of art
direction. And these two oddballs were the teenage Thora Birch
and the 40-year-old Steve Buscemi. There wasn't necessarily
wrong with the portrayal of chemistry between the two. But
the film couldn't leave good enough alone and actually let
the two sleep together. In the aftermath, Ghost World suggested
that Buscemi's character Seymour was the victim in the situation.
Many involved with the production noted that Seymour was a
larger part of the film than he was in the graphic novel because
"Terry really related to Seymour." I see. I don't
want to flat out say that Zwigoff has child molester tendencies,
but I kind of wonder about the gleeful tone of scenes where
Willie in his Santa outfit brags about sexual exploits in
front of kids. Or how he takes that "wooden pickle"
covered in child's blood and uses it to have sex with his
girlfriend. I'm honestly not trying to look like a prude;
I just want to look like someone who can read into a filmmaker's
I honestly believe that something like Bad Santa could
have worked. But it can't when it's so hung up on being so
naughty. And I am certain that some will enjoy it for the
shock. But I need some substance. Yes, shock me! Kick me in
the nuts and say that my family is ugly. Fine. But you should
have a point. There must be a method to the madness. But perhaps
this is not the end of the world: There are reports out there
that "journalist" Matt Drudge made up the Disney
flack as a way to rally conservatives against Miramax. But
the content of the film shouldn't matter. I hate films like
Bad Santa for the same reason I hate Matt Drudge: Because
they serve no purpose. Art should provoke, but there's a difference
between provoking and causing a knee-jerk reaction. Bad
Santa can't think enough past the horror it tries to initiate.
That may be the most offensive thing of all.