Bad Santa 2
Directed by Mark Waters
Opens November 23
Bad Santa materialized like a toxic wind this time of year in 2003, but its genuine transgressiveness and nihilism were medicinal. This was before the Bad/Dirty boom, when it still felt kind of shocking to see an antihero alcoholic racist in a Santa Claus suit having sex with prostitutes in a major motion picture. It helped that it was helmed by something of an arthouse hero in Terry Zwigoff, whose slim and singular filmography includes Crumb and Ghost World, and whose funny movies seem rooted in an authentic strain of misanthropy. Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) directs here, anonymously, with Quebec standing in for Phoenix and Chicago.
Drawling, hangdog Billy Bob Thornton remains perfectly tuned to the role of Willie Stokes, though the late Bernie Mac and John Ritter leave a vacuum that Kathy Bates, as Willie’s criminal, abusive mother and now heist partner, struggles to fill with endless crudeness and profanity. Willie’s diminutive former co-conspirator Marcus (Tony Cox), who backstabbed him in the first film, for some reason reaches out to the suicidal Willie and gives him a reason to live—a sweet opportunity to pilfer a cool couple million from a Christmas charity in Chicago. Brett Kelly, as the plump towheaded optimist kid (now in his twenties) who adores Willie, also returns, injecting the crass retread with what little warmth it has. Christina Hendricks is the charity host who has copious parking lot and alley sex with Willie when she’s not withstanding breast jokes and dragging Willie to AA (she’s in recovery).
Gone also are the writers of the first film, here replaced by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross, content to pepper the screen with curse words, casual racism and a storm of little people jokes directed at Marcus (Willie says he’s from the “negro Land of Oz”). Nothing about that is necessarily worth wagging a finger at (it’s still called Bad Santa, after all), but none of the comparisons with the 2003 version flatter this go-around. Thornton himself was very upfront about this, saying in 2014 that “we knew it wouldn’t be” as good as the first, but it should be “close enough.” The long gestation period—Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Doug Ellin (Entourage) were attached at points—hints at the fact that there was no special reason for resuscitating this hateful bunch. Bad Santa 2 is good for a few laughs, but there’s a joyless perfunctoriness about the whole thing. It might be time to retire this particular crank.