Terry Zwigoff's raunchy, reindeer-bashing romp is here to stick a firework up the festivities. Okay, so there's usually a drill for this kind of Scrooged schtick: you start with a sting, grouse a little, then wrap things up with tinsel and a twinkle. But played to the boozy, boorish hilt by Billy Bob Thornton, this Santa is no way interested in cross-generational, buddy-movie redemption. What's more, the oddball brat (Kelly) who lives with his senile gran and latches on to Soke is beyond all redemption, too. Got kids? As Willie might say, take the little shits to see another film.
Far from roasting your cockles then, Santa does for Yuletide what Death To Smoochy did for kids' TV. All you lovers of Zwigoff's brand of comical, curmudgeonly ennui will be right at home. His last film, Ghost World, turned the high-school movie on its head, leaving things nicely open for his likeable, life-soured heroine Enid; previously, in Crumb, he honed in on counter-culture cartoonist Robert Crumb. Here he turns the Christmas movie on its back and leaves it lying there, legs kicking, like a Crumb comic featuring an anti-hero as terminally tetchy as Enid.
Granted, it runs the risk of looking like a post-Yule bank balance come the close. The script is mostly funny but also a little stretched - and not nearly as keen as you might hope, given that it was revised by the Coen brothers. And in a fashion familiar to those of us who save our Christmas shopping until 24 December, it gets in a mess trying to round things up and finish them off.
Still, Zwigoff and his cast keep it watchably mean-mannered and, in their determined biliousness, the results are oddly heartening. Lauren Graham's Santa-fetishising love-interest doesn't wholly convince, but Thornton is persuasive as the pant-pissing Soke. Elsewhere, Cox is spectacularly ill-tempered, while Bernie Mac is great as a poker-faced store dick. Yes, this is a film for Christmas not for life, offering relief from cheesy cheer without reaching the heights of, say, The Apartment. But in sticking to its grizzled guns, it's filthy fun while it lasts.
The clue's in the title. Bad Santa squeezes enough humour into its tight costume to satisfy anyone suffering from seasonal sickness.