I found "Bad Santa" funnier in theory. The film certainly does offer a great idea - a department store Santa hugely upset with where his life has ended up who makes a criminal living robbing the department stores he and his partner (Tony Cox) have found themselves working in. However, the film seems to choose every wrong path, not to mention taking a long time spinning its wheels before ever really getting going.
The film focuses on the santa of the title, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), who finds himself hired on - along with his partner - in yet another mall in yet another town by yet another owner (the late John Ritter). In need of a place to live, he crashes with a kid named Thurman (Brett Kelly) who "believes" Willie is Santa and who lives alone with his senile grandmother. The romantic interest (Lauren Graham) is a bartender with a serious thing for Santas. Even so, it's terribly difficult to believe that Graham's character would - santa fixation or no - find anything of interest in the foul-mouthed, angry, drunked Willie.
Speaking of angry and foul-mouthed, "Bad Santa"'s main failure is that it remains entirely too concerned with shocking the audience about how vulgar the film is, rather than making us care about the characters or thin story. Certainly nothing wrong with vulgarity, but there's not much wit here and vulgarity by itself gets tired after a while. Having Willie yell, curse and throw insults at the kid is funny for a moment, then starts to become dull. The way characters simply accept Willie's actions also was hard to believe. The performances aren't bad, though. Thornton is the perfect actor for the role, but I just wish the script would have supported him better. Bernie Mac also does fine in a supporting performance, as does John Ritter.
There are some funny moments here and there are certainly even a couple of heartwarming ones. Given that the film was directed by Terry Zwigoff ("Crumb") and produced by the Coen Brothers, I expected more in the way of clever dialogue and stronger characters. The film's focus on the shock value of hearing Santa curse is funny for a moment, but gets old pretty quickly.
The film is being released in two versions - "Bad Santa" and the unrated "Badder Santa", with 7 additional minutes of footage.
VIDEO: "Bad Santa" is presented by Dimension in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is surprisingly average, with some noticable problems. Sharpness and detail are simply okay; the picture mostly appeared fairly well-defined and crisp, but could seem somewhat on the soft side at times.
Other issues occured, as well: some light/mild edge enhancement was occasionally visible, as were some compression artifacts. On a positive note, at least the print appeared clean and free of specks or other debris. The film's color palette remained subdued, for the most part (aside from a few vibrant moments here and there), and seemed accurately rendered here.
SOUND: "Bad Santa" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack was largely front-heavy, with only slight reinforcement of the music by the surrounds. The rear speakers really didn't have anything else to contribute, and the soundtrack remained focused on the dialogue. Audio quality was fine, as dialogue and the score both sounded crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: Not a great deal: aside from a few deleted scenes and a brief "making of", we get promos for other Disney/Miramax/Dimension fare, a gag reel and an additional outtake reel.
Final Thoughts: "Bad Santa" has its moments, but I couldn't help but feel as if the filmmakers coasted on the idea of a vulgar Santa, not doing anything too inspired with it. Dimension's DVD edition provides okay audio/video quality and a couple of supplements. Recommended for fans, those who haven't seen the film and are still interested should try a rental first.
The Film ** 1/2