Two Director's Cuts from Buena Vista
Bad Santa (October 16/06)
The third version of the film to hit DVD since its 2003 release (following the theatrical cut and Badder Santa), Bad Santa: Director's Cut is actually shorter than either of those incarnations and generally comes off as a slightly more effective, distinctly streamlined piece of work. Billy Bob Thornton's uncompromising work as the title character remains the highlight here, with stellar supporting performances by Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, and even Bernie Mac cementing the Bad Santa's status as a bona fide cult classic. Director Terry Zwigoff - working from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's screenplay - does a nice job of blending the film's distinctly caustic elements with intermittent instances of sentiment, though this new cut ensures that such moments remain extremely intermittent. The uneven tone - which is particularly noticeable during the movie's uneventful second act - somehow doesn't seem as problematic this time around, and one can't help but resist the emphasis on Thornton's relationship with the film's various characters (especially Kelly's sweet, inquisitive Thurman Merman). In the end, there's little doubt that Bad Santa deserves a place among treasured Christmas pictures - as it certainly provides a welcome respite from the relentless holiday cheer that generally accompanies such films.
Though Stay Alive never quite crosses the line into complete incompetence, the pervading vibe of needlessness becomes more and more difficult to overlook as the film progresses. The exceedingly silly storyline follows a group of friends who stumble upon an unreleased videogame and soon find themselves haunted by the demonic spirit of legendary 17th century serial killer Elizabeth Bathory. It's not hard to see what filmmaker William Brent Bell is trying to do here; with copious similarities to The Ring and its ilk, Stay Alive is presumably meant to echo the eeriness and deliberate pace that viewers have come to associate with Japanese-inspired horror flicks. But the complete lack of authenticity within the screenplay (particularly in terms of the titular videogame, which isn't even remotely convincing) and the preponderance of quirky supporting characters quickly transforms the flick into a thoroughly tedious experience, while the inclusion of some awfully lazy storytelling by Bell and cowriter Matthew Peterman (hmm, wonder if the hero's fear of fire will come into play later on?) ensures that even the most forgiving viewer will find little here worth embracing. And because the DVD is being marketed as an "unrated director's cut," the film's almost complete lack of gore is particularly egregious (a little needless brutality would've almost certainly elevated the proceedings, albeit temporarily).