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Bad Santa (known as Badder Santa on the unrated DVD) is a 2003 American Christmas criminal dark comedy film directed by Terry Zwigoff, and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, Bernie Mac and John Ritter. This was John Ritter's last film appearance before his death on September 11, 2003. The Coen brothers are credited as executive producers. The film was released in the United States on November 21, 2003.
The film was screened out of competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
An unrated version was released on DVD on March 5, 2004 and on Blu-ray Disc on November 20, 2007 as Bad(der) Santa. A director's cut DVD was released in November 2006; it features Zwigoff's cut of the film (including an audio commentary with him and the film's editor), which is three minutes shorter than the theatrical cut and ten minutes shorter than the unrated version.
Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his dwarfed assistant Marcus (Tony Cox) are professional thieves. Every year, Willie disguises himself as a department store Santa Claus and Marcus disguises himself as an elf in order for both of them to rob shopping malls at night. Willie is an alcoholic, a sex addict, and is gradually getting unable to perform his Santa duties with children, much to Marcus' dismay. When they are hired at the fictional Saguaro Square Mall in Phoenix, the vulgar remarks made by Willie shock the prudish mall manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter), who brings it to the attention of security chief Gin Slagel (Bernie Mac).
At the mall, Willie is visited by Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), an exceedingly naive and gullible, overweight boy who thinks Willie is really Santa. The boy is a target of taunt and torment from a skateboarding gang. At a bar, Willie meets Sue (Lauren Graham), a woman with a Santa Claus fetish, and they begin a sexual relationship. Willie is harassed by a man in the bar, but Thurman intervenes. Willie gives Thurman a ride home, then enters the boy's house where he lives with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). Thurman reveals that his mother died, and his father is away "exploring mountains" (when he is actually in jail for embezzlement). Willie tricks Thurman into letting him steal from the house safe and steals a BMW owned by Thurman's father.
Bob informs Gin that he overheard Willie having sex with a woman in a mall dressing room; Gin starts to investigate. Willie goes to his motel room and sees it being raided, causing him to take advantage of Thurman's naivete and live in his house. Marcus berates Willie for taking advantage of Thurman, stating his disapproval of Willie's sex addiction.
Gin's investigation of Willie includes visiting Thurman's imprisoned father, revealing that Willie is staying there illegally. He confronts Willie at the mall, and takes him and Marcus to a bar. There, he reveals that he has figured out their plan, blackmailing them for half of the cut to keep silent.
Willie attempts to commit suicide by inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes. He gives Thurman a letter to give to the police, confessing all his misdeeds. Willie notices Thurman's black eye, which persuades him to make an example of the skateboarding bully. A renewed sense of purpose for Willie has him attempt to train Thurman in boxing.
Marcus and his wife Lois (Lauren Tom) set up a trap for Gin, feigning needing a jump start for their vehicle from Gin's. Lois hits Gin with the car, then Marcus kills him.
On Christmas Eve, when the heist is almost complete, Willie goes to get Thurman a pink stuffed elephant that he had wanted for Christmas. Just as he gets the elephant, Marcus reveals to Willie that he intends to kill him, fed up with his increasing carelessness. Lois tells him to hurry up and kill Willie so they can get away with the merchandise. The police swarm them, tipped off by the letter Willie gave to Thurman. When Marcus opens fire, the police shoot at him and Willie flees. Determined to give Thurman his present, he leads the police on a chase to Thurman's house, ignoring orders to freeze. He is repeatedly shot on Thurman's porch, but survives.
The epilogue is told through a letter from Willie, who is in a hospital recovering. He expresses his gratitude for Thurman in giving the letter to the police and clearing his name. Shooting an unarmed Santa embarrassed the police, and Sue is granted guardianship over Thurman and his house until Thurman's father, Mr. Merman, is released. Willie also explains that Marcus (identified as Santa's Little Helper) and Lois are serving time behind bars for their actions, while expressing hope Mr. Merman is wise to avoid the two. The movie ends with Thurman finally standing up to his bully by kicking him in the crotch causing him to fall to the ground. Thurman is seen riding his bike away flipping off the bully.
- Billy Bob Thornton as Willie T. Stokes
- Tony Cox as Marcus
- Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman
- Lauren Graham as Sue
- Lauren Tom as Lois
- Bernie Mac as Gin Slagel
- John Ritter as Bob Chipeska
- Octavia Spencer as Opal
- Cloris Leachman as Granny (uncredited)
- Alex Borstein as Milwaukee mom
- Billy Gardell as Milwaukee Security Guard
- Bryan Callen as Miami bartender
- Tom McGowan as Harrison
- Ajay Naidu as Hindustani Troublemaker
- Ethan Phillips as Roger Merman
- Matt Walsh as Herb (uncredited)
- Max Van Ville as Skateboard Bully
- Ryan Pinkston as shoplifter
- Curtis Taylor as Phoenix Security Guard
- Sheriff John Bunnell as Phoenix Police Chief
- Dylan Cash as Kid on Bike (uncredited)
Bad Santa, Zwigoff's fourth film, was his most mainstream, following the limited releases of Crumb and Ghost World. The original screenplay was written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Prior to filming, Ethan and Joel Coen and Zwigoff did rewrites on the script, although by WGA rules, they were uncredited.
In an interview in 2012, Zwigoff revealed the difficulty of the films production, explaining how he and the writers tried to get the tone of the script right and also revealing creative differences between himself, the Coen Brothers and Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The Coen Brothers didn't agree with the casting of Tony Cox as Marcus, and the Weinsteins filmed additional sequences with another director without Zwigoff's approval, in order to make the film more mainstream.
The film has been praised for its innovative use of classical music in scenes. The following pieces of music were used in the film:
- Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 9 No.2 by Frédéric Chopin
- "Up on the House Top" by Benjamin Hanby, performed by Eddy Arnold; and by the Cherry Sisters
- "Jingle Bell Rock", performed by Bobby Sherman
- "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Charles Brown, performed by Sawyer Brown
- "Papa Loves Mambo" by Al Hoffman, Dick Manning, and Bickley Reichner, performed by Xavier Cugat and his orchestra
- "Holly Jolly Christmas" by Johnny Marks, performed by Burl Ives
- "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, performed by Dean Martin
- "Deck the Halls" performed by Boots Randolph
- "Jingle Bells" by James Pierpont, performed by Ricky Nelson
- "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" by Edmund Sears and Richard Storrs Willis, performed by The Symphonette Society
- "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Edward Pola and George Wyle, performed by Andy Williams
- The Sleeping Beauty (Valse) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, performed by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
- Jazz Suite No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, performed by Bing Crosby
- "Winter Wonderland" by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith, performed by The Symphonette Society
- Overture to The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, performed by Zagreb Festival Orchestra, conducted by Michael Halász
- Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
- "Seasons Freaklings" by Bunnygrunt
- "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Phil Spector, performed by Swag Music Group featuring Tom Chappell
- Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet
- "Silent Night" by Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr
Even before release, the film was the subject of bad publicity by critics, who had likened the movie to an "evil twin" of Miracle on 34th Street. In addition, they also chided The Walt Disney Company, the owner at the time of Miramax/Dimension Films as well as the Buena Vista Pictures distribution group, for allowing such a beloved figure as Santa Claus to be trashed. In addition, even then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner and other executives at Disney were shocked at the lewdness and disrespect for a cultural icon such as Santa Claus, and ended up reconsidering its owning of Miramax as a result.
In the U.S, a theatrical version, an unrated version, a director's cut and a Blu-ray version (which includes unrated and director's cut) have all been released. According to dvdtown.com, the special features for the theatrical cut of the film included: a behind-the-scenes special, outtakes, and deleted scenes. The unrated edition was released June 22, 2004 and had all of the above plus a 'Badder Santa' gag reel and over seven minutes of unseen footage. The director's cut was released October 10, 2006 and contained the new version of the film (as Zwigoff originally intended it). It also had a new commentary (in addition to the rest of the features: outtakes, deleted/alternate scenes, and the behind-the-scenes feature). The Blu-ray version released November 20, 2007 contained the unrated version and the director's cut of the movie. Among its special features were director's commentary, an interview with Zwigoff and editor Robert Hoffmann, along with other features ported over from the previous unrated version's release in addition to a showcase feature.
On September 18, 2009, Billy Bob Thornton appeared on the NFL Network show NFL Total Access. He confirmed, after host Rich Eisen hinted, that there would be a sequel to Bad Santa, aimed for release by Christmas 2011. In March 2011, Thornton and The Weinstein Company confirmed that negotiations had begun for a sequel. A sequel had been scheduled for December 2013. On May 30, 2013, it was revealed that Miramax has hired Entourage creator Doug Ellin to rewrite the script. On November 25, 2013, Billy Bob Thornton confirmed that the sequel Bad Santa 2 is expected to start production in early 2014 after script problems were resolved. It is due for release by 2016.
Notes and references
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