There’s something about Billy Bob Thornton that’s just irresistible, a certain balance of charm and sleaziness, not to mention his deadpan sense of humor… He’s the Man, basically. Be it in heartbreaking drama or broad comedy, he’s always immensely watchable, and his turn in “Bad Santa” is no different.

Thornton plays Willie, a trainwreck of a man who’s always indulging in the three ‘B’s: booze, bullshit and butt-sex (“You ain’t gonna shit right for a week!”). The only thing he can do remotely right is crack safes, which he does every Christmas eve at big department stores where he’s been playing Santa Claus as a front with his elf and partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox). Of course, all the drinking and cursing in front of the kids doesn’t sit well with people like mall manager Bob Chipeska (John Ritter in his last role), who assigns store detective Gin (Bernie Mac) to keep an eye on this rowdy St. Nick.

Here we have two ideas, one that’s inspired and hilariously wrong (Santa as a mean and perverted drunk) and one that’s tired and dull (yet another heist flick). Thankfully the whole robbery thing is only a small part of the movie, which is mostly about Billy Bob getting sauced and yelling at people. There’s a half-sincere subplot about the development of an unlikely friendship between Willie and a lonely fat kid (Brett Kelly) that doesn’t quite work but, again, just watching Billy Bob being an ass keeps us entertained. Also faring well is Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham as a barmaid with a Santa fetish; she’s Jewish and never celebrated Christmas, so the big man in red has an attractively forbidden feel for her!

“Bad Santa” was directed by Terry Zwigoff, whose Ghost World had way more depth and sophistication than what is basically a one-joke movie, but that one joke made me laugh often and loud enough to recommend it. Billy Bob’s gloriously shameless performance alone assures this will become a cult classic.