Willie T Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a shopping-mall Santa with a difference: a cynical, safe-cracking alcoholic with a penchant for sex with hefty women and a wholly unconcealed dislike of kids. Indeed, he only does the job as a cover for the felonies he perpetrates with Marcus (Tony Cox), his criminal-mastermind elf. But then Willie has two not-quite-life-changing encounters: one with self-confessed Santa-groupie Sue (Lauren Graham); the other with parentless eight-year-old Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), whose innocence verges on idiocy and who happens to live in a mansion that’d make a great home for Willie.
Admittedly, this black comedy – from an idea by the Coens and directed by the esteemed creator of ‘Crumb’ and ‘Ghost World’ – is pretty much a one-joke film; true, too, that at the very end it sweetens much of what’s gone before with a spoonful of sentimentality. But it is, for the most part, quite hilarious in its foul-mouthed malice and disenchantment with all things wholesome and familial; few films have been as funny about greed, lust, incontinence, midgets or kicks to the balls. The secret is that Terry Zwigoff, Thornton et al play it straight (though a few scenes featuring the store manager and a mall detective are far less funny – reputedly they were added by another director after Zwigoff refused to pad the film out to the more conventional running time requested by Miramax). Wonderfully tasteless, gloriously non-PC, admirably bilious; humourless souls should steer clear.