In-between directing more arty/trendy flicks, Terry Zwigoff tried his hand at a somewhat more commercial effort with Bad Santa, a Christmas movie with a difference.
The main difference being that our "bad Santa" is a shady, foul-mouthed, boozing thief who pisses his pants.
Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox's Christmas tradition in this movie is posing as a mall Santa and Elf then robbing the whole place after the busiest shopping day of the year. Unfortunately, Willie (Thornton) is struggling to keep both his alcoholism and his sex addiction under control so he soon becomes a liability in grave danger of messing up the whole plan. Along the way, Willie meets Sue (Lauren Graham), a girl with a Santa fetish and they begin a relationship of sorts. He also meets a clingy overweight young boy amusingly called Thurman Merman, played by an appropriately wide-eyed Brett Kelly, who, for whatever reason, believes Willie to be the real Santa Claus. And although the kid annoys the hell out of him, the latter gladly crashes at his house, making himself at home before inevitably genuinely feeling bad for Thurman who is constantly being bullied by other kids due to his dumbfounding naivety.
The film, which had the Coen brothers as executive producers, walks an interesting line between gross-out shenanigans, black comedy and Christmas fable as it manages to keep a constant rudeness and dirtiness going while also telling its story through a sharply-written script and subtly instilling a calculated dose of Christmas spirit into its audience. You'd never expect to find a film like Bad Santa, a film that prides itself on how anti-Christmas it is, heart-warming in any way and yet Terry Zwigoff somehow manages to have his cake and eat it too. The darker humour works, the sweeter moments work and, bizarrely, it all works together rather well. Sure the plot is super simple and hardly a mind-altering, inspiring event but all the characters, no matter how repulsive or pathetic, are so likeable you'll want to follow this one through. It's sad to think that, since Bad Santa came out, we lost both John Ritter and Bernie Mac but it was definitely good to have them both in this movie doing what they did best: being pretty darn funny.
All in all, I certainly recommend Bad Santa. While perhaps not the best choice for the whole family to sit around and watch on Christmas Eve, it's a fun R-rated Christmas romp the likes of which you don't see very often. It's a great concept and the filmmakers pulled it off royally.