Terry Zwigoff, director of Crumb and Ghost World, and Joel and Ethan Coen, who polished the screenplay, have no interest in making you feel good. It's a welcome gift at year's end -- bleak, nasty, raunchy, kind of truthful and absolutely hysterical.
Willie (Thornton) and his partner, an African-American dwarf named Marcus (Tony Cox), despise each other. They're bound only by greed and a hatred of all things Christmas. Theirs is a good gimmick, though, and they're passable enough to be hired by an uptight Phoenix department-store manager (John Ritter, in a twisted send-off) looking to hire cheap holiday help. But Willie and Marcus raise the suspicions of the department store's laxative-addicted head of security (Bernie Mac). And one child becomes unavoidable: Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), a kid with snot crusted on his upper lip and urine staining the underpants wedged up his crack by bullies.
In any other film, Willie would bring out the man in the boy, and the boy would soften a grown-up's hard heart. But Willie has just one use for the "retarded mongoloid." Thurman lives with a doddering grandmother (Cloris Leachman) in a giant house where Willie can stay until his Christmas Eve caper. His new bartending girlfriend, Sue (Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham), loves nothing more than to screw Willie in the hot tub in Thurman's back yard while yelling, "Fuck me, Santa!"
But Bad Santa is more than the sum of its curse words; it's as surreal as it is obscene, as clever as it is profane. It plays like some crude offspring of underground comics and 1920s comedies, as though Willie and Marcus were Laurel and Hardy. (Kelly's Thurman bears a frightening resemblance to doughy Our Gang member Joe Cobb.) There are scenes stolen from Marx Brothers movies, musical cues out of Warner Bros. cartoons and slapstick that plays like Buster Keaton on a three-day bender.
One has to wonder how many children were scarred in the making of Bad Santa. Zwigoff includes a scene toward the end that suggests that even he can't believe what he's gotten away with. Disney, which distributes Miramax's movies, is not at all thrilled with Zwigoff's film. Reportedly, sources close to Disney honcho Michael Eisner say their boss believes the "movie borders on being sick." To quote Willie, "Thank the fuck Christ."