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Ho For The Holidays

Not your father's Thanksgiving fare

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Scouring the Dr. Seuss library of classic children's literature, I simply could not find one of the lines that was prominently featured in the live-action screen rendition of The Cat In the Hat:

"I can't believe you whizzed on my taco!"

Nor could I locate the moment when the title feline, standing next to a garden tool, yells, "You dirty ho!" then proceeds to insist he's only kidding while flicking his tongue in a lascivious manner at the inert object. Dramatic license? More like rampant necrophilia.

If nothing else, this bad Cat at least vindicates me for the charitable review I awarded How the Grinch Stole Christmas when it debuted three years ago. Vilified by most critics, Grinch nevertheless had the benefit of a smashing comic turn by Jim Carrey, whose live-wire act managed to take the character as far as it could go to the edge of dementia without ever becoming too insufferable for audiences to watch. After struggling through Cat, I suspect most scribes will agree that Grinch looks like It's a Wonderful Life by comparison.

Certainly, Mike Myers is no Jim Carrey. As the Cat, Myers delivers a performance that's as exhausting as any delivered by Robin Williams at his most hyperactive. In principle, it's no different than Carrey's Grinch turn -- plenty of makeup heaped upon plenty of sassy attitude -- but unlike Carrey's unapologetically edgy work, Myers' shtick is all one-note self-adulation, a feeble channeling of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion by way of Jerry Lewis, Paul Lynde and Myers' own Austin Powers. It's a terrible performance, at once unctuous and obnoxious.

Because Dr. Seuss' delightful yet slender story, about a mischievous cat whose home invasion ensnares two kids in his property-pummeling merriment, wouldn't stretch out to feature length, the makers of this monstrosity have added a subplot in which a sleazy neighbor (Alec Baldwin) tries to woo the comely mom (Kelly Preston) of the two children (Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin, both equally annoying). There's also some business involving the mom's neat-freak boss (Sean Hayes), as well as a rave scene that's as out-of-place as the one from The Matrix Reloaded. Theodore Geisel isn't merely rolling over in his grave -- he's spinning so fast that he's splintering the coffin around him into shards appropriate for teeth-picking.

That cute goldfish from the original story is simply creepy on film, as are those twins of terror, Thing One and Thing Two. In fact, there isn't much in this crass movie that doesn't inspire feelings of revulsion. And this sense of icky surrealism even emanates beyond the auditorium: Any respectable adaptation of a Dr. Seuss classic shouldn't end with me spending time in the parking lot afterward, awkwardly trying to explain to my 12-year-old daughter the meaning of "dirty ho."

Despite its all-inclusive R rating, there's no "dirty ho" in Bad Santa, but that's only because she's been crowded out by the booze-swilling Santa Claus, the foul-mouthed dwarf, the kinky bartender, and the snot-nosed (literally) kid. In these cynical times, this is probably the type of Xmas release we should be bracing ourselves to receive on a regular basis -- but maybe that's not an entirely bad thing. Bad Santa may be rude, disgusting and offensive, but I laughed plenty of times, which is something I can't say I did during those sucky Tim Allen Santa Clause flicks.A perfectly cast Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie T. Stokes, a lifelong loser who dons the red suit every Christmas season to play a department store Santa. It isn't that Willie likes children -- on the contrary, he can't stand them -- but he and his diminutive pal Marcus (Tony Cox), who plays elf assistant to his Santa, use the gig as a cover for their real mission, which is to rob the stores of all that holiday cash.

But this year's scheme threatens to become more complicated than usual. For starters, the store manager (the late John Ritter) and the head of security (an underused Bernie Mac) both suspect that something's not quite right about this pair. Meanwhile, Willie has entered into a relationship of sorts with a cute bartender (Lauren Graham) whose fetish involves guys in Santa suits. But perhaps most troublesome of all is the unexpected presence of a pudgy little boy (Brett Kelly) who follows Willie around like a pet, asks him an endless stream of questions ("Do you need that money to fix your sleigh?" he inquires while Willie's robbing his father's safe), and doesn't even blink whenever Willie directs a string of insults and vulgarities his way (which is often).

We know what you're thinking: This all leads to that part of the movie when The Kid (as he's listed in the credits) wins over Willie to such a degree that the pseudo-Santa chucks his life of crime, bonds with the boy, and everyone lives happily ever after with eggnog in hand. Well... not quite. A sentimental moment or two does enter the picture late in the game (and they're surprisingly effective), but for the most part, this movie carries the power of its non-PC implications right through to the very end -- a refreshing change from those supposedly hard-boiled (and truly cynical) pictures that adopt a rebel stance for most of the running time only to turn unconvincingly mushy and preachy during the final reel. This movie, on the other hand, rarely lets up with the raunch and ridicule -- it's enough to make Will Ferrell's Elf blush.

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