I was on my way to see the feel-good, sweetness of "Elf," when I realized that I had arrived five minutes late. Being a stickler for "on time", I decided to skip "Elf" and check out the next available film. Thus, I found myself viewing this Terry Zwigoff directed comedy about two con-men who disguise themselves each holiday as Santa and an elf in an effort to rip off the department store. The Coen brothers reportedly came up with this idea, and they also produced the film. With the presence of the Coen's, Zwigoff and a cast lead by Billy Bob Thornton, it's no wonder this pitch black comedy connects on so many levels.
I will say that I found myself, at times, disappointed with myself at how often I laughed in this film. This film is, at times, downright mean-spirited and humiliating of its characters. It should be noted that Bill Murray was originally tapped for the lead role, and I can't help but think he could have done a better job of balancing the character's sadness, disillusionment, callousness and gentleness. Thornton is clearly more effective in the callous, sad places of his character and doesn't have the depth to convey his growing fondness for Brett Kelly's character, "The Kid." I also never bought into the idea that Sue, beautifully played by Lauren Graham, could truly fall for this pathetic little "Santa," no matter how much of a thing she had for Santa's...You know, there are a lot to pick from during December.
Brett Kelly does a nice job as the fat, seemingly lonely and retarded kid...I admit I'm a sucker for the "fat kid" role in movies, and Kelly does a nice job here though the script doesn't really allow us the chance to understand him more fully. Yes, we learn he lives alone with his grandmother...and, yes, we learn his father is in prison. Yet, there's something missing from the exposition...I'd be putting the kid on an anti-psychotic instead of feeding into his Santa delusions.
Lauren Graham was wonderful as the sweet, at times horny, bartender with a thing for Santa. I came home with the phrase "F... me, Santa" bouncing through my brain.
Tony Cox has a nice chemistry with Thornton, and did a nice job of portraying his changing attitudes towards the end of the film. I also really loved his "con artist" portrayal and his ability to work the children and adults in the film.
In his final big screen role, John Ritter makes a nice appearance as a store manager. Bernie Mac, though given little to do, makes his presence known as the security chief. Ajay Naidu, who I so loved in "Office Space," makes an odd appearance here that just seems out of place.
Overall, this film will appeal to Thornton fans, Zwigoff/Coen fans or simply those who aren't in the holiday spirit. It truly is a "pitch black" comedy that occasionally goes over the edge into mean-spiritedness...yet, it does so in a way that is bound to make you laugh. Now, I have to go see "Elf" to balance it all out!