Saturday, December 20, 2003

Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff 2003) – 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 it’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? You’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 you’d think there would have been parent complaints. And though this starts to get nitpicky, I can’t help but wonder about the elf stopping the security alarm. If there’s a 30 second window, how does he know when to start? In the opening he’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 “really� happen is pretty much irrelevant. But in Bad Santa so many other problems come up that it’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 she’s Jewish?) but is otherwise purely decorative. What attracts her to a sleazeball like Willie? Apparently the answer is “just because.� 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 there’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 wasn’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 that’s not given elsewhere—and more logically—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 I’m guessing that there was a passable script to start but nobody took the time to make it better; there’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 it’s certainly funnier than, say, The Haunted Mansion or heck most sitcoms. Which only makes the film more frustrating.