Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Created with a significantly smarter hand than its advertisements let on, Bad Santa tells an intriguing story of two characters at complete extremes.
At the bottom of the barrel, licking whatever he can find, is Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), a thief whose method is to play a department store Santa, rob the store blind and drink himself nearly to that state until he runs out of money. And then there’s … well, he’s in the credits as “The Kid,” and it’s best to leave it that way. His name is revealed, and young actor Brett Kelly’s reaction to Thornton’s questioning of it is one priceless moment of many.
Willie and The Kid are fascinating, not in changing each other, but coming to more of an agreement that sort of helps them both out. Bad Santa isn’t so much against Christmas as it is against being so sunnily ignorant of people who are miserable losers of any age. It’s like an equally dark, but more slapstick look at the themes of director Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World. It has a sideshow vibrancy to animate the usually raunchy, but usually riotous, goings-on.
In the ending of a more conventional and condescending film, Willie would dry out, get the girl and open a business. The kid would make friends of the bullies, get his father back and become King Cool in school. At its dysfunctional, hysterical conclusion, Bad Santa takes the notion of “happy,” puts it on puree and then pours it out — sort of how like life usually is.