Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff 2003) â€“ This should have been right up my alley: A scurrilous black comedy with a great cast and a director with a perfect track record. But itâ€™s hampered by a haphazard script, even worse a script with the kind of problems that could have been fixed by another draft, a script doctor, what have you. Just take the problems with the set-up. How is it that the duo have been running this scam for seven years? Youâ€™d think somebody would remember a news item about a department store robbed by a black midget, not to mention a drunken Santa. Which only brings up the question of how Willie is able to keep the Santa jobs. In the film, this one instance is explained by a weak manager and a dishonest mall security chief but even then youâ€™d think there would have been parent complaints. And though this starts to get nitpicky, I canâ€™t help but wonder about the elf stopping the security alarm. If thereâ€™s a 30 second window, how does he know when to start? In the opening heâ€™s too far away to hear or see the guard enter the code.
Every film has its little goofs and whether or not they add up to what might â€œreallyâ€� happen is pretty much irrelevant. But in Bad Santa so many other problems come up that itâ€™s harder to ignore or justify the lapses. For instance, the bartender who is given a few lines of backstory (she has a Santa fetish because sheâ€™s Jewish?) but is otherwise purely decorative. What attracts her to a sleazeball like Willie? Apparently the answer is â€œjust because.â€� Or the ending that looks like there was a desperate re-do to make it more redemptive or at least happier. Willie dying on the front lawn has a sense of closure consistent with the rest of the film but thereâ€™s a pretty unbelievable coda where he lives and goes completely unprosecuted, all done with a Billy Bob Thornton voice-over which suggests that the whole sequence was an afterthought and he wasnâ€™t available for actual filming. (Speaking of which, the voice-over at the start of the film is an odd, beginning-writer mistake since it provides no information thatâ€™s not given elsewhereâ€”and more logicallyâ€”in the film.) What about Marcus the elf suddenly developing a bloodthirst? It comes pretty much out of nowhere and one instance relies on the security chief behaving so naively that it borders on self-parody.
A quick check of the IMDB shows that the film was written by the duo responsible for Cats & Dogs, a film phenomenally dumb and almost completely humorless even for a kids movie. So Iâ€™m guessing that there was a passable script to start but nobody took the time to make it better; thereâ€™s already enough evidence of rushed production in the finished film that suggests the whole project was hurried, possibly to meet a Christmas release date. There is some good stuff here and itâ€™s certainly funnier than, say, The Haunted Mansion or heck most sitcoms. Which only makes the film more frustrating.