Thirteen years have passed since holiday audiences were first caught off guard by the dark, raunchy, unapologetic button-pusher of a Yuletide comedy that was Bad Santa. While a sequel this long after the original is completely unnecessary, Bad Santa 2 is finally hitting theaters this holiday season and there’s enough of the first film’s dark laughs to satisfy those that enjoyed the original.
Willie Sokes’ (Billy Bob Thornton) “happy ending” from the end of the first film was never going to last. As Willie points out, this type of thing is bullshit, and people don’t change and eventually being an alcoholic dickhead will make anyone sick of being around you – hence Sue (Lauren Graham) has left him and all these years later he’s back to being a broke, miserable loser.
The only person that still cares about Willie is the reliably sweet and naive Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) – now a 21-year-old man with the face of child. Unexpectedly, Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) reappears in Willie’s life with another opportunity for a big score in Chicago, which Willie reluctantly accepts. When they arrive Willie discovers he’s being pulled back into the fake Santa game once again, but this time at the behest of his own mother Sunny (Kathy Bates).
Much like its predecessor, Bad Santa 2 is not going to be everybody’s cup of egg nog. The humor is crude and offensive and there’s not a lot of nuance to anything in this film, with the exception of Billy Bob Thorton’s performance – which is again, quite good. Thornton is the king of dry sarcasm and still somehow manages to dredge up empathy and emotion for this horrible person in a few key scenes. What worked in Bad Santa still mostly works in this film and will satisfy those in need of palate-cleansing laughs in a counter-programming alternative to the general sappiness of most holiday entertainment.
While Thornton’s performance is again surprisingly complex and impressive, young Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly reprising his role) steals the show in Bad Santa 2. The obese child was hilarious in the original and somehow manages not to lose any of the endearing charm and endlessly cheery attitude of the big, dim lug of a character. Thurman is absolutely essential as a character for both films to work, because he humanizes Willie and gives him fleeting moments of having a heart.
Tony Cox as the other one of the returning cast member Marcus was used mostly for “little people” jokes again and more crude humor, but Cox is just effortlessly funny no matter what horrible line Thornton throws at him or what goofy “little person” scenario he’s thrown – Cox makes them his own with his seething, venomous responses and hasn’t missed a step since the original.
Kathy Bates, on the other hand, fits right in as the highest profile new cast member with great comedic timing and can pull off white trash with ease, but yet still look the part of Mrs. Claus. The character of Sunny doesn’t have all the best one-liners in Bad Santa 2 and was more raunchy than actually funny, but Bates added an interesting new dynamic to the team and obviously was having fun doing it.
Unfortunately, other new cast members Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars) play a dysfunctional married couple working for the Santa charity, but aren’t much more than plot-advancers with an occasional humorous, sexual scenario. Hendricks’ character becomes the object of Willie’s advances and she fills (ahem) the romantic focus left vacant by Lauren Graham’s departure, but has none of the character’s warm allure.
More of the humor in this film falls flat when compared to the writing and execution of Bad Santa and there’s plenty of jokes that are simply reliant on dropping the f-bomb or some other graphic word to elicit lowbrow laughs. I have no problem with that style humor if the situation and delivery are actually funny, but a bit too much of the film mirrors setups and themes that are direct copies of the original film, but with less inspired results.
But as stated early in this review, what’s broke doesn’t need that much fixin’ and the formula for Bad Santa produces a still mostly funny sequel, that while not perfect, could have been a whole lot worse. Bad Santa 2 provides exactly what’s advertised: most of the same dark, hilarious, shock humor that has hits more than misses and occasionally has a moment or two of goodwill and holiday cheer.