Elf‘s Santa smelled “like beef and cheese” and Bad Santa‘s buttfucked. Every holiday film season sees the Santa suit thrown on some fumbler, and one of the better incarnations—a dope-pushing, chain-smoking armpit sniffer—is nigh. Elbowing Bad Santa for the same barstool (and likely lensed earlier, nabbing some 2003 festival awards), Santa Smokes puts its rival’s glossier look and happy ending to shame. In hock to both his affectionate roomie (Richard Glover) and a local gambler, baby-faced actor Johnny Jones (co-director Till Schauder a/k/a Till Terror) capitulates to holiday employment as flyering street Santa, berating and beating up midtown strollers. A radiant, slumming holiday worker, Angel (Kristy Jean Hulslander), offers a few wispy ways out of his rut, which Jones manages to deep-six while drinking his way into some tender gay sex.

Jones-Terror—working on two levels by occasionally breaking character—spikes his own playfulness with a sizzling, squashed rage. Overall the acting is sound, the missteps few, and the murky digicam smash-and-grab sheen entirely apt for the cacophonous Christmas crush—shown in best light when the hero Travis Bickles it up for Euro-tourists (“Tu parles avec moi?”) with camcorder in hand, while cops with pixelated faces wander around Times Square.