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Film / Bad Santa

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Bad Santa is a 2003 American Christmas Black Comedy film produced by The Coen Brothers (who also provided uncredited rewrites) and directed by Terry Zwigoff — his only financially successful movie to date.

Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is a drunk sort-of Jerkass safe cracker who along with his dwarf accomplice Marcus has a yearly routine of getting jobs as a Mall Santa and Elf respectively during the holidays and robbing the mall's safe on Christmas Eve after closing time. During one such stint, Wille meets a boy named Thurman Merman (who is mostly referred to in the movie as "The Kid") who inadvertently saves him from being raped. After an inquiry launched by the mall's unscrupulous security chief Gin Slagel(Bernie Mac), Willie moves in with The Kid who lives alone with his senile grandmother (his mother is dead and his dad is in jail for embezzlement) to evade the cops. He and his girlfriend Sue Willie start to warm up to the Kid and Willie starts acting as a surrogate father... of sorts.

Eminem, who was a fan of this movie, included clips of this into his music video "Just Lose It" with himself playing the titular Bad Santa. A sequel called Bad Santa 2 had been released in theaters on November 23, 2016.

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  • The Alcoholic: Willie is drunk for almost the entirety of the film.
  • Abusive Parents: Willie had an abusive father. He did teach him how to crack a safe, though.
  • Adults Are Useless: Thurman mostly has to fend for himself; his parents are either dead or incarcerated and his grandmother is too senile. Willie does partially avert this trope though by stepping up as an anti-heroic Big Good.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: More justified than most examples, given that the person doing the crawling through the vents is a dwarf.
  • Anti-Hero: Willie may be a thief, a safecracker, a drunk, and a sex offender, but he still means well for the Kid.
  • Asshole Victim: Gin, who blackmails Willie and Marcus for half their stolen loot, gets rammed by a 1979 Dodge Van (by Lois), and after Marcus shocks him with a car wire, is buried in the desert. Marcus later remarks, "Store dick's dead! Fuck the fucking store dick!"
  • Auto Erotica: The first time Willie and Sue have sex.
  • Bad Santa: Literally the entire film's plot. He's a Santa who is a thief, safecracker, serial fornicator and intense DRUNK.
  • Bad Job, Worse Uniform: Willie hates having to be Santa.
    • Marcus for his part despises dressing up like an elf, but at least he's good at his role.
  • Badass Boast: When he sees the safe in the climax, Willie notes that a badass safecracker once told him that model can't be cracked. Marcus then goes on a rant about how he held Willie together this whole time only to learn that he can't crack it.
    Marcus: Now you're telling me you can't crack it, is that what you're telling me?!
    Willie: No, I'm just saying it's gonna take a minute.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After robbing the mall in the opening, Willie says he will use his share to go to Miami and open a bar. Marcus replies that this is not gonna happen. We then cut to several months later, where Willie appears to be running a bar on the beach, but then it is shown that he merely walks behind the bar to steal drinks.
  • Becoming the Mask: Willie at first disavows he'll ever be a real Santa Claus, but at the end, he tries to deliver the pink elephant Thurman always wanted and narrowly succeeds, but in the course of it he gets into a high-speed chase with the police who pump several bullets into him, which he (barely) survives.
  • Berserk Button: Willie does not like being asked a lot of questions or being interrupted during his lunch break.
    • He also loses it and beats the fuck out of the Kid's tormentors when he sees that one of them blackened the Kid's eye. Willie's own history of childhood abuse probably accounts for this being a sensitive spot for him.
  • Big Bad: Gin seems to be set up as this, but in the end it's actually Marcus himself.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The cops arrive just in time to stop the robbery and save Willie from being killed by Marcus. Though problems still arise because Willie forgot that he tipped them off and they didn't know that he was the one who did so at the time.
  • Big Good: Willie becomes this to Thurman as the movie progresses, since he is able to help Thurman fend off the bullies who torment him everyday after school, gets him the pink stuffed elephant he always wanted, and finally helps him attain a proper parental substitute (Sue) to look after him.
  • Book Ends: Both the beginning and end play Chopin's "Nocturne", albeit the ending's version is louder and more sophisticated with an orchestra accompanying the piano due to being far more dramatic.
  • Broken Ace: Willie is a brilliant safecracker and skilled fistfighter who, were this any other movie, would be a wisecracking member of a Badass Crew. Since this is not any other movie, Willie is a miserable alcoholic asshole who hates himself and everybody else, and spends much of his time blackout-drunk and soaked in his own piss.
  • The Bully: Thurman deals with one who Willie proceeds to beat within an inch of his life.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Willie testing Marcus's temper with daily "Fuck you"s and many insults about his height and lack of sex life leads to Marcus pulling out a gun on him as soon as he decides Willie helped him rob enough safes for many Christmases to retire.
    • Gin Slagel, a security officer, tries blackmailing Marcus for a cut of the spoils on their next heist. Marcus has his wife Lois ram him with a car, shocks him, and dumps Gin's body in the desert.
  • Butt-Monkey: Thurman, until Willie teaches him to stick up for himself.
  • Camera Abuse: When Willie is thrown out of the bar in Miami, he throws a glass of gin which splashes against the camera.
  • Car Fu: How Marcus and Lois kill Gin. Lois rams into him repeatedly while he's helping to start Marcus' supposedly disabled car.
  • Chekhov's Gun: About halfway through the film, Willie has the kid deliver a letter to the police. At the end, it turns out to contain all the details for the robbery, which allows them to appear and arrest Marcus, incidentally preventing Willie's murder at the hands of Marcus.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: Hinted by Willie as a possible reason for Thurman's behavior.
    Willie: Jesus, what is it with you? Somebody drop you on your fucking head?
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Thurman.
    Thurman: "Now I don't want an elephant at all. I want a gorilla named Davy for beating up the skateboard kids who pull on my underwear. And he can take his orders from the talking walnut, so it won't be my bad thing."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: According to IMDB, the word "fuck" is used 159 times (170 in the unrated version). In a Christmas movie.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A mainstay of the film. Willie constantly misinterprets people's comments as something sexual, as when Bob asks about his performance (you mean sexual performance?) or when Sue asks if he likes kids (I'm not some fucking pervert!). Thurman, due to being an idiot, also takes conversations in wildly unexpected directions.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Willie and Marcus both.
    • Gin Slagel as well, particularly during his conversations with Bob Chipeska.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: At the beginning of the film, its feel is very cynical (what with dealing with Mall Santas and all), but by the end, while keeping the salty language, the movie's more like "Hey, it's Christmas after all".
    • The movie plays itself as one for Christmas movie tropes. No actual Santa Clause or the magical nature other Christmas films usually carry, by the end of the film it still ends on a rather idealistic note that you don't need any of that cliched stuff to be a better person.
  • Determinator: After fleeing from the police, Willie reaches the kid's house in order to give him his present. Even after being shot eight times, he still tries to crawl to the door with the toy elephant.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: At the end of the final mall job, the only thing Willie has in his possession is a pink stuffed elephant. And the police absolutely riddle him with bullets as he attempts to deliver the gift.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: When he and Marcus first meet Bob Chipeska, Willie becomes distracted by the voluptuous ass of a passing female shopper, so much so that when he returns to the conversation and hears Chipeska uttering the word "performance", he misunderstands (due to his previously lascivious thoughts when he was ogling the woman) and thinks it's a comment on his sexual performance rather than his performance as Santa Claus!
  • The Ditz: Even for his age, Thurman is unbelievably stupid. His vocabulary is very limited, he poorly comprehends things and has poor memory. And he usually can't even remember events from the previous day.
  • Does Not Like Cookies: Willie seriously hates sugar, dairy, and non-alcoholic carbs. He prefers salads and meat over milk and cookies.
  • The Dragon: Lois to Marcus. She serves as Marcus's getaway driver and physical back-up.
  • Driven to Suicide: About halfway through the movie, Willie tries to kill himself through carbon monoxide poisoning. Fortunately, he snaps out of his funk when Thurman comes to check on him and he sees the kid has a black eye, prompting a Rage Breaking Point as he beats the crap out of the bullies who hurt him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Willie (inadverdantly) tips the cops off about the robbery and gets Marcus arrested. He's given a job as a sensitivity trainer for the police, and also secures a capable adult to watch over Thurman. He also gets the kid a few presents, and Thurman in turn now knows how to handle the bullies.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Willie may be a bastard, but hurting children is low, even for him.
    • He's also aghast at Marcus and Lois' over the top materialism:
    Willie: "You people are monsters. I'm not talking about you taking me out; that part, I get. But look at all that shit. Do you really need all that shit? For Christ sakes, it's Christmas."
  • Extreme Doormat: Bob Chipeska, who lets Willie and Marcus race-card him into not firing them for inappropriate workplace conduct.
  • Face Cam: This occurs as Willie is at one point about to pass out from his own drunken stupor.
  • Fat and Skinny: Thurman is fat, Willie is skinny.
  • Free-Range Children: Thurman wanders around the city and even takes regular trips to the mall all by himself. Justified in that the only person around to raise him is his senile grandmother.
  • Good Feels Good: For a given value of good anyway, but Willie comes to this conclusion when he beats up some bullies who had been harassing Thurman.
  • Grandparental Obliviousness: Thurman's grandma reacts to absolutely nothing around her. When she isn't sitting in her chair watching TV, she's fixing up some sandwiches. She ignores a strange man in a Santa outfit and ski mask in her house and also her grandson screaming in pain with his hand bleeding.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Marcus is easily jealous of Willie for being tall and strong enough to sexually pursue young women of his choice and eventually score with Sue.
  • Groin Attack: When teaching the kid how to fight, the kid ends up kicking Marcus right in the crotch. This causes Marcus to retaliate against the kid in the same fashion. When Willie raises protest about punching a child in the crotch, Marcus yells "fuck you, Willie!", and punches Willie in the balls — and then Willie punches Marcus in the balls. The scene ends with all three lying on the ground groaning in pain (and trying to kick each other in the balls).
    • When Marcus and Lois kill Gin at the end by smashing him between two cars, they seemingly impale him right in the crotch, but it's off-camera, so it's hard to tell.
    • In the movie's final scene, Thurman kicks the main mall bully right in the nuts.
  • Harmless Villain: Willie's an expert safecracker and he's been involved in a lot of mall robberies in the past, but his drunken antics make him more of a liability to The Plan than anything else.
  • Harmful to Minors: After Willy's flight from the cops brings them into the heart of Thurman's neighbourhood, two small children walk out onto a balcony in time to witness a skinny Santa getting gunned down by the police.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: The Hindustani barfly who attacks Willie in the parking lot while insisting that he is most definitely not gay. All because Willie looked in his direction for a split second.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Gin is a security chief who penalizes shoplifting (and unnecessarily roughs up shoplifters), but he's not above stealing either, as he blackmails Willie and Marcus for half the spoils from their next heist.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: The attractive, pear-shaped woman in the mall whom Willie lustfully admires.
  • Heel Realization: Willie has one when he remembers that he ate all the candy in Thurman's advent calendar and realizes how low that was.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Willie at the end.
    • Unlike most Christmas films, though, his personality is still foul-mouthed and sarcastic. But now a better person.
  • High-Voltage Death: How Marcus ends up murdering Gin Slagel after his wife rams the man with their van.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Willie complains about kids pissing themselves on his lap, while he does that himself about half the time he's in his Santa costume.
    • Marcus insults Willie that the latter would fall apart without him. Though it's clear that Marcus needs Willie far more than the other way around, since Marcus's only ambition is to steal money and needs Willie to crack safes, while Willie was able to leech off Thurman for a car, cash on hand, and a place to sleep.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Gin: I could stick you up my ass, small fry!
    Marcus: Yeah? You sure it ain't too sore from last night?!
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Starting off as what seems to some as a pure Jerkass (though he rarely if ever picked his verbal battles), Willie eventually becomes this.
  • Kavorka Man: Despite his unkempt appearance and over the top alcoholism, Willie is implied to get a number of women. A lot of women do love a Santa. It's played for laughs with Sue riding Willie in his car shouting "Fuck me Santa! Fuck me Santa!".
    Willie: Can I at least take the hat off?
    Sue: No! I love the hat!
  • Lazy Bum: Willie is incredibly lazy, and also his alcoholism makes him too sleepy or unstable to hold down a paying job. Because of this, he has to steal or leech off others for money and housing.
  • Leaving Food for Santa: Equating Willie to Santa, Thurman keeps offering Willie some milk and cookies or sandwiches. Ironically, Willie doesn't like sugary or starchy foods much (his actor is even a strict vegan who is allergic to wheat).
  • The Mall: Willie's preferred target.
  • Mall Santa: Multiple scenes take place with the main character dressed as Santa in a mall.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Willie in one of the mall dressing rooms — in more ways than one.
  • The Millstone: Marcus begins to view Willie as this, since his unprofessional behavior has almost gotten them fired or arrested on numerous occasions. This ultimately leads to him turning against Willie at the end.
  • Morality Pet: The kid serves as this for Willie. Curiously enough, Zwigoff removed most of the scenes with him and Willie in the Director's Cut, making it shorter than the theatrical release. The ending is still one massive Pet the Dog sequence for Willie.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Angry that Willie led the security guard Gin straight into their tracks of mall robberies every Christmas, Marcus decides to shoot Willie at the climax.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Marcus makes this clear when he murders Gin Slagel. With jumper cables.
  • Offscreen Karma: The polic department gunning down Willie despite the fact he was only holding a stuffed toy while dressed as Sanata on Christmas Eve results in the department being raked over the coals for shooting an unarmed Santa and having to treat an obnoxious profane alcholic like royalty because he has them by the balls and could bankrupt them with one call to a lawyer.
  • Only Sane Man: Marcus spends most of his time doing damage control for Willie and giving him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech now and then. Subverted when he betrays Willie, though Willie double subverts it when he admits that that's the sane response to his behavior.
  • Papa Wolf: Willie evolves into somewhat of one, to the point where he gives the bullies who harass The Kid a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Parental Abandonment: The kid's mother is dead and his father is off exploring the mountains (a kid-friendly lie for sitting in prison for embezzlement). His grandmother is his only guardian, but she struggles to stay awake.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Marcus, despite his dwarfism, can tackle Willie with force.
  • Police Are Useless: Justified in that Willie and Marcus always plan out every single half-second of their contingency plans to crack safes and know how to evade arrest, that Willie can get away with robberies even while drunk (but only because Marcus pulls him out of the crime scene every time). Gin came close to busting them, but he tried extorting them for a cut of their loot rather than turn them in — which winds into his own undoing.
  • Refuge in Audacity: It's a Christmas film about an alcoholic, foul-mouthed mall Santa who has "screaming brats" on his lap for about a month and is plotting to rob a store on Christmas Eve, and that's for starters. Marcus is meticulous in his audacity, thoroughly planning every heist. Willie just seems to drunkenly stumble from one success to the next, uncaught because seriously, who would ever do that?
  • Repetitive Name: The kid's real name is Thurman Murman.
  • Satiating Sandwich: Averted. Willie doesn't want any. "What is it with you and fixing fucking sandwiches?"
  • Shown Their Work: Though it may have been a lucky break for the writers, Willie sending a letter to the cops actually would be taken into account, legally (in some jurisdictions). It's an affirmative action taken to step away from the criminal conspiracy.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Willie, which is no surprise, considering his actor. The movie uses 173 uses of the word "fuck", not including the extended version. Marcus isn't afraid to drop a few dirty words every now and then, either.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: This is the primary method through which Willie and Marcus communicate, peppered with some colorful language for good measure. Gin Slagel later gets in on the act.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: When Willie and Marcus first arrive at the mall in Phoenix, the song "Let It Snow" is being played, even though it is warm and the sun is out. Given the black comedy nature of this film, this is likely intentional.
    • Not to mention the soothing, almost hypnotizing classical score that always picks up in tempo during the film's more audacious moments.
  • Stealth Pun: Thurman asks Willie, a raging alcoholic, to get him a pink elephant for Christmas.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: During the climax, the police shoot at Willie when he refuses to surrender, despite the fact that the most dangerous thing on him is a plush pink elephant toy. When Willie reaches Thurman's house, he is shot by the police eight times on the front walkways in front of all the neighbours, which results in a...
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Though he survives, Willie being shot eight times while fleeing from the cops despite not having a weapon proves to be a massive embarrassment to the Phoenix Police Department, who also recieves extensive outrage from the public for shooting an unarmed Santa, with Willie being treated like royalty by the department, likely so he won't file a massive lawsuit.
  • Suspicious Ski Mask: Played for Laughs when Willie puts on one of these before he enters Thurman's home with intention to rob it. After entering inside, he encounters Thurman's grandmother, who declares that she's going to make sandwiches for them despite seeing Willie wearing a ski mask. Even Willie seems perturbed by this as well as the fact that someone as clearly incapable of being a caretaker as Thurman's grandmother is the only other person besides him who lives in the house. Thurman himself also doesn't care that Willie put on a ski mask.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: It's very clear that at least by this point in their partnership, Willie and Marcus simply do not like each other — Marcus views Willie as a liability to their scheme due to his alcoholism and sex addiction jeopardizing his role in their annual operation, whereas Willie seldom misses an opportunity to insult Marcus (generally over his dwarfism, and usually in response to whenever Marcus criticizes and insults Willie over his aforementioned issues). Suffice to say, this tense partnership and Willie's increasing incompetence are what drive Marcus to betray and attempt to kill Willie in the climax.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: An ironic variant where the house guest is the victim, not the perpetrator, since Willie depends on Thurman for free room and board, but Thurman is the one who keeps annoying Willie.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Marcus takes a deep breath before throwing himself down the Air-Vent Passageway in the climax, because he's going to slide down an increasingly steep passage and then drop a dozen feet onto a table.
  • Threat Backfire: When approached by a little boy's mother for a "lap" request, Willie screams at them that he's on his lunch break and doesn't want to do it now. The mother threatens to report his behavior to the manager, and Willie rebukes her back that he isn't intimidated because the likelihood that his supervisor Bob Chipeska could possibly make his life any more miserable is low.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Thurman, as evidenced by the well-deserved Groin Attack he inflicts on a bully.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Thurman's is sandwiches, Willie's is salads. In the extended version, however, Willie was seen eating corn dogs and turkey legs.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Marcus is an African-American with dwarfism. A fact that he uses to his advantage when faced with possible termination.
  • Villain Protagonist: The film's protagonist is Willie, a man who dresses as Santa in order to pull off heists.
  • Volleying Insults: Between Gin and Marcus when they have to handle Willie passing out in the mall.
  • Who's on First?: The banter between Willie and The Kid about why the latter acts slow:
    Willie: What is it with you? Somebody drop you on your fucking head?
    Thurman: On my head?
    Willie: Yeah, well, what, are they gonna drop you on somebody else's head?
    Thurman: How can they drop me onto my own head?
    Willie: No, not onto your own— would— GODDAMN IT, ARE YOU FUCKING WITH ME?!
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Lois orders Marcus to do this when the two have Willie at gunpoint at the completion of their heist, complaining that she's losing patience and wants to leave already.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Marcus, at the least if said child kicks him in the balls. Willie calls him out on this.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once the safe is cracked and he gets everything he wants out of the mall, Marcus decides it's time to off Willie since he's no longer reliable. Marcus asserts that Willie's behavior has deteriorated from his alcoholism and feels that it is way past time for them to break ties.