When “Bad Santa” thrust itself onto the scene in 2003, it almost instantly secured a prime spot on the short list of classic films with a beloved cult status. The idea of a foul-mouthed, sex addicted, alcoholic, and abusive Santa Claus was incendiary, distinctive and edgy. The obstacle that proves to be the sequel’s major stumbling block is that the idea no longer feels subversive, and the jokes are no longer edgy. Is that a commentary on the current state of society and Hollywood? Maybe. But “Bad Santa 2,” while enjoyable enough, feels too much like a bland rehashing of its predecessor to be memorable or universally loved.
This feel bad holiday movie almost identically mirrors the first film in plot and tone. This time around, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is reunited with his nemesis, the double-crossing little person Marcus (Tony Cox), to infiltrate a Chicago children’s charity and rob them of two million dollars. The duo must go undercover dressed as — you guessed it — Santa and an elf.
I really enjoyed seeing Thornton back in that red velvet suit and beard. He’s the ultimate antihero, the baddest of the bad Santas. He flawlessly steps back into character, playing Willie with the perfect harmony of sincere emotion and cynical detachment. This is Thornton’s movie to be sure; every time I see him in onscreen, I begin to appreciate him more and more. He’s a talented guy and he deserves far more leading man roles than he gets. It’s a pity his talents are mostly wasted in a movie that not many people will ever see.
Another throwback from the original movie is Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman, the curly-haired fat kid who is now all grown up (and still as naive and brainless as ever). There is a funny running gag continued from the first film about Thurman making sandwiches (and yes, there’s even a shout out to dear, departed Granny). Joining the cast are the brilliant Kathy Bates as Willie’s ex-con mama Sunny (and the perfect onscreen match for Thornton), and Christina Hendricks as Diane, filling the shoes of Lauren Graham as Santa’s new busty (and unapologetically horny) love interest. If you’ve always wanted to see Bates spewing a long line of vulgarities, this movie will not disappoint.
A lot of fuss has been made about this film being derogatory and hateful towards women, but I didn’t view it that way at all. All of the women in this film are depicted as tough and in control of their own sexuality. While this idea may make some viewers uncomfortable, I can assure you that these lady characters are the strongest of the strong and can hold their own when spoken to in a disrespectful manner.
There are quite a few amusing gags, including many, many crude and vile one-liners. This sequel is packed with even more politically incorrect and lowbrow humor than the original, which sadly means that there are frequent pitiful attempts at jokes that come across as being crude solely for the sake of being crude. I love a vulgar and offensive wisecrack as much as the next guy, but it really bugs me when there’s no point to the crudeness.
“Bad Santa 2” falls into this trap more often than I’d like, but it still made me laugh overall. And thanks to the particularly enjoyable performance from Thornton, I can mildly recommend it to fans of the franchise and those who are sick of sappy holiday movies.
Set more than a decade after the first movie, “Bad Santa 2” finds Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) continuing to booze it up and wallow in his misery. The kid, Thurman Murman (Brett Kelly), is technically an adult but doesn’t much act like one, and is good at overstaying his welcome with Willie. When Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) reenters Willie’s life with the proposal of a new heist, the promise of a big payday proves too much for Willie to resist. Together with his estranged, criminal mom Sunny (Kathy Bates), Willie and Marcus plot to steal a boatload of cash from a charity flush with it around the holidays.
“Bad Santa 2” is just as filthy as its predecessor, but not quite as funny. Too often the film relies overly much on dirty jokes and explicit sexual banter for its laughs. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that smutty jokes and descriptive slang can’t be funny in the right situation; there are several bits that use them to hilarious effect. It’s when foul language substitutes for actual writing that I have a problem. And “Bad Santa 2” leans a little too heavily on that crutch, which makes it less effective than the first film.
Still, it’s not all bad. The Willie role fits Thornton like a glove and he plays the part to a perfect pitch. Bates is fun as Willie’s hard-drinkin’, hard-livin’ mom who is more interested in the next score than in reconnecting with her estranged son. And Christina Hendricks is delightful as Diane Hastings, the head of the charity being targeted by the gang who has a bit more in common with Willie than she would care to admit. Both Bates and Hendricks play off Thornton well, and their chemistry is undeniable.
Fans of “Bad Santa” will be slightly disappointed but pleased enough to see familiar characters back again. But “Bad Santa 2” isn’t likely to win over anyone new. As R-rated comedies go, you could do worse (“Bad Moms“), but you could also do better (“The Brothers Grimsby“).