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Naughty but nice

Bad Santa
R (Santa urinating on himself, Santa puking, Santa getting much more than a cookie … )
Playing at area theaters
Three-and-a-half reels out of four

If there exists a title that more appropriately describes a movie than Bad Santa, I wish you’d tell me. I think it’s a safe bet that after seeing Billy Bob Thornton’s profane take on a department-store Santa Claus, you will be shouting at the screen, "Bad Santa! Bad Santa!" That is, if you can get a word out while you’re laughing your head off.

Thornton plays Willie T. Soke, the biggest loser on the planet. Just after Thanksgiving each year, he gets a call from fellow con man Rufus (Tony Cox). You see, every Christmas this unlikely duo poses as Santa and his helper in malls across the country. Then, on Christmas Eve, they clean the place out.

Things are a little different in Phoenix. Santa has attracted an unlikely friend, a lonely 8-year-old boy (Brett Kelly) who lets Santa stay with him and his grandma. Then there’s the store detective (Bernie Mac), who suspects the pair have something up their sleeves.

To say this movie is hilarious is a magnificent understatement. It is side-slappingly funny in a Farrelly Brothers kind of way. It is also quite tasteless in a Farrelly Brothers kind of way. Every joke you could imagine given the circumstances, and many you can’t, pop up at some time. See Santa fornicate with large women while little kids wait in line to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. See Santa pee on himself while the kids wait in line. See the dwarf (sorry, little person) get kicked on the Christmas ornaments just after he does the same to the little kid.

Yet, unlike many movies (Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd being a recent example), Bad Santa hits its mark many more times than it misses. Although comedy is subjective, I can’t see many people not laughing at Bad Santa.

Also unlike many movies, Bad Santa has a higher purpose. It happens to be the second feature film of the very talented and quirky Terry Zwigoff, whose first feature film was the critically acclaimed Ghost World. Zwigoff, who is also responsible for the decidedly off-center documentary Crumb, seems to take great pleasure in portraying people who live on the fringe of society, even if, like R. Crumb, they enjoy a certain cult status. To Zwigoff’s credit, though, he never condescends to the characters. And, also to his credit, the humor never gets syrupy. In fact, he finds the perfect balance between utter tastelessness and genuine empathy.

As for Thornton, he is absolute heaven — or hell, as the case may be. Like a seasoned slugger in major league baseball, his part is very much in his wheelhouse. Thornton belts it out of the park somewhere into the parking lot. He bleeds every laugh dry yet never lets you forget his character is a human being.

Drop the kids off to see St. Nick, then come see Bad Santa. Good movie.

(Note to parents: I don’t care how cutesy the TV commercials are — Bad Santa earns its R rating and then some. This is not suitable for kids under at least high-school age.)

Pirates of the Caribbean
Available Tuesday
When I heard there would be a film version of the Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean, I was filled with trepidation. I shouldn’t have been. Pirates of the Caribbean is a rousing, funny movie that combines at least three genres and never fails to entertain. Johnny Depp plays Capt. Jack Sparrow, a notorious pirate who reluctantly offers a colonial governor a chance to save his daughter, who has been kidnapped by the pirates of the notorious Black Pearl. Legend has it that they are among the ranks of the undead. It’s no legend that Depp is absolutely hilarious.

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