Ho-hum 'Bad Santa' lacks humor

Christmas comedy recycles same joke throughout

2.5 stars R, 93 m Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Bernie Mac and John Ritter Directed by Terry Zwigoff Release date: Nov. 26

The premise of "Bad Santa" revolves primarily around one joke, which is easy and frustrating at the same time. Easy because the actors involved pull off the joke pretty well and frustrating because the realization comes that they have squandered the opportunity to do so much more. Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie Soke, an obscene, womanizing and alcoholic shopping-mall Santa with a hidden agenda. Every year Willie and his dwarf partner Marcus, played decently by Tony Cox, set up their operation at a different mall with the intention of robbing its safe on Christmas Eve. This year proves to be different though, when Willie shacks up with a lonely, somewhat dimwitted kid simply credited as "The Kid." The crux of the movie is dedicated to his growing attachment to the wide-eyed child and his evasion from the squeamish mall manager, played by John Ritter in his final film role, and the mall detective, played by a surprisingly low-key Bernie Mac. This is director Terry Zwigoff's follow up to "Ghost World," a film that put him on the map as an exciting filmmaker with a non-conformist vision. While "Bad Santa" is by no means a predictable comedy, its spirited opening scenes do not lead to anything terribly special. It is apparent that producers Joel and Ethan Coen had a guiding hand on the production and on the story, but somehow their story just does not click with Zwigoff's direction. "Bad Santa" just sits on its laurels for most of its running length choosing to milk its characters instead of exploring them. There is a good amount of laughs, but all of them are forgettable and solely in context with whatever crazy situation Thornton is required to perform. After a while though, the countless obscenities Thornton must spout out seem to even grate on his nerves. Overall "Bad Santa" is effective at times, mostly due to the phenomenal job of Thornton and his surrounding actors. Nevertheless, the script and direction trap the cast, forcing the actors to use their talent for quick laughs at the expense of long satisfying ones.

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