By Chaz Lipp
The original Bad Santa was the perfect antidote to overly cheery, corny, family-oriented Christmas fare. Those films have their place, but Terry Zwigoff’s blast of dirty-minded holiday fun provided something decidedly more adult. And just in case it veered a little too close to nihilism for the average viewer’s taste, it still injected some warmth and sentiment in the end. Thirteen years later, a different director (Mark Waters, Vampire Academy, The Spiderwick Chronicles) and different screenwriters have offered up more of the same—to much lesser effect.
Billy Bob Thornton still knows how to wring laughs from the life-hating, safe-cracking, part-time shopping mall Santa. Thornton’s dryly hilarious Willie Soke is still reluctantly serving as a surrogate father to now-21 Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly, returning from the first film). Willie’s on the verge of suicide when opportunity comes knocking in the form of his old partner Marcus (Tony Cox), who tried to kill him in the first film. Marcus proposes an all-new scam to rob the Chicago-based Giving Way charity. The potential for a $2 million payoff convinces Willie to get back in the Santa suit once again. His meager enthusiasm dims once learning his mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) is involved in the caper. Sunny lives up to her name while volunteering with Giving Way, but behind the scenes she’s even more ruthlessly nasty than her son.
Thirteen years should’ve been more than enough time to come up with something interesting for Willie to do. But inspiration is in short supply throughout Bad Santa 2. Lauren Graham is not back as Willie’s love interest Sue. And of course the passing of both Bernie Mac and John Ritter has left notably sad gaps in the sequel as well. Bates, to her credit, throws herself into a completely committed, vanity-free role. And Christina Hendricks gets some feisty moments as Giving Way administrator Diane, a recovering sex addict trapped in an intimacy-challenged marriage. Despite having won an Oscar in the years since part one, even Octavia Spencer returns for a brief appearance as prostitute Opal. Brett Kelly is still oddly endearing as Thurman, the simple-minded kid who can still manage to evoke kindness in Willie.
For those with a yen for bad taste, anything-goes humor, Bad Santa 2 will get the job done. But it’s just barely adequate, not the mandatory-viewing classic the first film has become for so many.
Bad Santa 2 images: Broad Green Pictures