'Bad Santa 2'
‘Bad Santa’ was a delightful lump of comedy coal delivered in the 2003 holiday season. Somehow, the R-rated X-mas piss-take became a theatrical hit and a perennial holiday favorite on cable channels without content regulations. Now, 13 years later, the brand remains strong enough for a deeply unnecessary sequel.
Billy Bob Thornton and the cast might be back, but none of the talented behind-the-scenes voices (director Terry Zwigoff, writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, or producers Joel and Ethan Coen) who gave their goofy comedy a sense of pathos, satire and surrealism signed on. ‘Bad Santa 2′ is pretty much just a series of filthy jokes at Christmas’ expense without much artistry.
The sequel picks up with depressed safe-cracker Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) continuing his goal of drinking himself to death in the sun. Things haven’t exactly been great since the last movie and he’s about to commit suicide when that Thurman Merman kid (Brett Kelly) shows up all growed up, and an unexpected package from Marcus (Tony Cox) arrives suggesting that the gang get back together. The plan? Rob a Chicago children’s charity on Christmas. Given the betrayal from the last movie, you’d think that’d be a tough sell. But this is a sequel and sequels must move! So they buddy up quick and then, just to complicate things, Kathy Bates pops up as Thornton’s estranged career criminal mom to turn the duo into a trio. Then the swearing and misbehavior in Santa suits continue. The heist also obviously involves a pretty lady who inexplicably wants to bang a dirty Santa. This time it’s Christina Hendricks and there’s no Santa fetish, just a filthy fetish. In context, it kind of makes sense.
Like all comedy sequels, ‘Bad Santa 2′ feels strained and tells a lot of the same old jokes again. It’s not like the original movie ever felt open to a sequel. Things wrapped up pretty succinctly and everything that could possibly be said was covered. The sequel’s script does a lot of wheel-spinning to justify its existence. It never really makes sense that Willie and Marcus reunite. Bates’ mother feels pretty tacked-on despite their apparently important history. Hendricks has no character beyond a fetish and an excuse for public X-mas sex jokes that are a necessity to retain the title. The less said about the security guards and managers of the charity the better, because they’re barely memorable foils to advance the plot. There’s nothing necessary about this sequel and nothing that goes above or beyond what happened in the last movie. It only exists because there was money to be made in putting a number “2” next to the words “Bad Santa” and selling tickets.
Yet, despite all that, it’s pretty funny. The cast is wildly overqualified for this thing. Thornton is once again a curmudgeonly delight downing fake booze and spitting out compound swear words. Tony Cox is a hysterically strong presence who should be used more. Kathy Bates has way too much fun getting filthy and even lends her dramatic scenes as much weight as possible. Then there’s Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman, a walking punchline who at least seems to be in on the joke this time even though he often gets laughs just by showing up.
These folks are funny and they get just enough decent lines of dialogue to sell. Director Mark Waters (‘Mean Girls’) might lack the skills to add the genuine pathos and heightened underground comic visuals that made the original flick so special, but he knows how to shoot a movie and get laughs. It’s slickly effective. No one sleepwalked through this even if the project wasn’t exactly essential.
‘Bad Santa 2’ is a tough movie to review. On a purely storytelling or artistic level, it’s big step back from the rather brilliant original and is filled with odd bursts of gratuitous sentimentality that ‘Bad Santa’ deployed only with irony. However, if you love ‘Bad Santa’ enough to want to see the gang together again, you will laugh and you’ll likely laugh often. You’ll also very likely forget what you specifically laughed at the next day and will never reach for this movie to watch on a cold Christmas night over the original. That almost goes without saying. However, it’s an absolutely acceptable raunchy comedy experience with just the right level of bad X-mas taste. It could be worse. It should have been worse. It’s just not ‘Bad Santa’, despite the title.