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Sunday 19 November 2017

The rise of the XXXmas movie - where Santa boozes up and there's no sign of the children

Christmas at the cinema was once dominated by rosy-cheeked children and sinful adults often learning a life lesson or two. Now, writes our critic, you're more likely to see Santa cough up his booze from the night before than a present, while kids seem to be left out of the picture altogether

Wreaking havoc: Billy Bob Thornton returns for 'Bad Santa 2'
Wreaking havoc: Billy Bob Thornton returns for 'Bad Santa 2'
L-R: Courtney B. Vance as Walter, T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, and Reliance Entertainment
Image: Seth Rogen in The Night Before.
Image: It's A Wonderful Life
Ed Power

Ed Power

Which Christmas movie are you most looking forward to this year?

The one where Santa swears like a trooper, racially abuses a little person and interrupts a charity collection to beat up another Father Christmas? The comedy in which co-workers throw a seasonal office party involving nudity, alcohol and extreme sports? Perhaps you'll stay in instead and feast on the 2015 laugh-fest about three old-school friends spending Christmas Eve snorting drugs and plastering church pews with the lining of their stomachs?

Welcome to the 21st-century Christmas film - where roasting chestnuts and ruddy-cheeked cherubs are replaced by gross body humour, a blizzard of expletives and enough single-entendres to fill Santa's grotto several times over.

The flag bearer for a genre we've gone ahead and dubbed the "XXXmas movie" is 'Bad Santa', the sequel to which arrives Wednesday. Here, Billy Bob Thornton reprises his 2003 role as potty-mouthed Santa Claus impersonator Willy Stokes, who dons the iconic red and white outfit as a front for his lowdown criminal endeavours (this time he is accompanied by his f-bomb spewing mother, played by Kathy Bates).

L-R: Courtney B. Vance as Walter, T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, and Reliance Entertainment
L-R: Courtney B. Vance as Walter, T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, and Reliance Entertainment

"He's the alternative to the over sentimental, sugar-coated characters that you generally have in Christmas movies," said Thornton of the character's appeal (incredibly, cuddly odd-ball Bill Murray was first choice for the part). "He's the reality instead of the fairytale and some people really like the idea… people get tired of the commerciality [of Christmas], the selling the corporate stuff - Willy is exactly the opposite of that."

As Thornton says, the attraction of the XXXmas movie lies in the refuge it offers from the endless sentimentality of Christmas (in the Czech Republic 'Bad Santa' goes by the arguably more accurate title, 'Santa Is A Pervert'). Yes, we know this is a special time of year, to be shared with friends and family, but we don't need to be knocked on the head with the message. Oh for a few off-colour jokes to punctuate the forced jollity.

Likewise belching in the face of convention in 2016 is 'Office Christmas Party', in which Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman are executives caught in the tinsel-hued crossfire as a Christmas shindig gone spectacularly off the rails.

Though not released until mid-December the trailer makes clear that it will push 'Bad Santa 2' all the way for title of year's most scandalous Christmas film. There is drunkenness, there is lechery, there is a sequence in which a man jumps off a desk and smashes his face. In other words, it's just like every December work blow-out you've ever attended, only with a Hollywood budget.

Image: Seth Rogen in The Night Before.
Image: Seth Rogen in The Night Before.

We should also mention 'The Night Before', the scatalogical bro-comedy of 12 months ago. Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie are childhood friends-turned -irresponsible man-children hitting the town for one final pre-Christmas blow-out before real-world responsibilities cramp their style forever. Cue endless scenes of drug hoovering, extreme drunkenness and public barfing. 'It's A Wonder Life' it is not.

"Grown up Christmas movies are a good release from seeing all the kids' movies over the festive period," says Karen Woodham of movie blog Blazing Minds. "'Bad Santa' certainly brings the adult humour in to the limelight… Us grown-ups need our Christmas movies as well as the kids."

The XXXmas movie didn't simply drop out of the clear blue sky. Even 'It's A Wonderful Life' - routinely extolled as the greatest seasonal flick of all time - has an adult skew, its themes of regret and stifled ambition sure to soar over the heads of a younger audience. 'Bad Santa' and its ilk were meanwhile foreshadowed by 1989's 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation', in which Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold kidnaps his boss on Christmas Eve. And what list of seasonal films for grown-ups could omit 'Die Hard', an early example of the Christmas-action-movie hybrid? (a genre that also includes 'Lethal Weapon', 'Batman Returns' and 'Iron Man 3').

"Christmas is mainly for kids. It is one of the most magical times of the year, yet we soon grow up and lose it to some degree," says Phil Edwards, founder and editor of Live For Films.

"It gradually takes on a different aspect - shopping, preparation, queues, family and lots of stress. Most of those Christmas films aimed at an older audience focus on that. We see Clark Griswold's anger when the Christmas lights don't work; John McClane in 'Die Hard' has got those pesky terrorists to deal with. But most of them are dealing with the problems we all face when Christmas arrives and it is funny how we flock to go and see those things on the big screen."

'Bad Santa 2' is released on Wednesday

The Best Christmas movies for watching….

…with friends

It’s A Wonderful Life

Image: It's A Wonderful Life

Frank Capra’s 1946 classic is sentimental, true, but with an undertow of unflinching honesty. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is a decent guy who finds that doing the right thing has resulted in a life of unfulfilled ambitions. It takes the intervention of a kindly angel for him to wake up and count his blessings.

…with kids

The Muppet Christmas Carol

The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge receives a hilarious makeover courtesy of Jim Henson’s motor-mouthed puppets. Weirdly, the 1992 film also features one of Michael Caine’s most memorable performances as the greedy money-bags forced to reckon with his miserable ways.

…with bored teenagers

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Fed up ruling Halloween Town, Jack Skellington attempts a hostile takeover of Christmas by kidnapping Santa and sending his slithery minions to deliver presents in his place. Dazzling, whimsical and with a streak of humour even a surly 15-year-old will find irresistible. 

Irish Independent

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