‘Bad Santa 2’ is a flawed, funny stocking stuffer
Directed by: Mark Waters
Written by: Johnny Rosenthal, Shauna Cross
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, and Brett Kelly
“Bad Santa 2” - “He’s making a list, and he’s checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…” – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie
“Bad Santa” turned this famous Christmas song on its head in 2003, by ironically finding a Kris Kringle (Billy Bob Thornton) who was both naughty and not very nice at all. Willie (Thornton) - a mean-spirited shopping mall Santa Claus who prefers booze over milk and cookies – routinely curses “over” his breath when various kids sit on his knee and ask for their most hopeful Christmas wishes.
Thornton answered our comedy wishes by breaking several rules of Christmas decorum in this unique and hilarious performance. Thirteen years later, Thornton resurrects Willie in director Mark Waters’ (“Mean Girls” (2004), “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” (2011)) new picture.
Like “Dumb and Dumber To” (2014) and “Bridget Jones’s Baby” (2016), there is no intellectual reason to convey another story of a beloved movie character in a sequel. On the other hand, with Black Friday, flashing multi-colored bulbs positioned on rain gutters and a 100,000 percent increase in seasonal egg nog sales imminently upon us, tis the season for Christmas movies, and hence Willie’s time is now.
Well, the year 2016 has not treated our hero very well, or to be more accurate, Willie has not treated himself with kindness. Behind on bills and in desperate need of a cleaning woman in his tiny Phoenix apartment, he believes that he has no apparent reason for living, when opportunity suddenly knocks! His old business partner, Marcus (hysterically played by Tony Cox), offers him a safecracking gig with two million dollars at the end of a sorted rainbow.
This particular prospect naturally contains a Christmas theme, which forces Willie to sport a Santa suit again. This, of course, makes him want to grab the nearest adult beverage and punch an open wall, but a small fortune could make any malcontent perform a task for a few days.
While Willie, Marcus and their new business partner, Willie’s mom Sunny (Kathy Bates), plan to hatch their robbery, they also devilishly spread their holiday jeer with putdowns, insults and complaints with the veracity of a raw, blush-inducing segment on the Howard Stern Show or the most uncouth joke emanating from a Reno comedy club on a random Saturday, just after midnight.
Thornton and Cox are masters at this type of humor with the abilities and timing to deliver expletives regarding “cultured” topics like sexual prowess or idiocy, and Bates joyfully plays along and hangs with their boorish behavior throughout the picture, including a bathroom scene in which she multitasks while watching her favorite reality show.
The reality is “Bad Santa 2” is very funny, and if you enjoyed the foul-mouthed style of the first picture, you will get a yuletide kick out of the sequel. Some of the sequences feel very familiar, such as various children asking Santa for presents and Willie finding a love interest (Christina Hendricks) with less importance on amore and more emphasis on physicality. The only moment, however, that really seems recycled is when Willie spews pizza from his mouth, which immediately flashes back to him screaming at a mall shopper that he is “on his lunch break” in the first movie. All in all, the original picture is over a decade old, so although “Bad Santa 2” does not soak in originality, Willie’s antics - for his fans – are certainly welcome.
Even the kid, Thurman (Brett Kelly), who followed Willie like a lost puppy in the 2003 movie returns and has now reached 21 years old. Several exchanges between Willie and this painfully naïve adult – who works as a sandwich consultant and wears a t-shirt three sizes too small – are some of the best in the film.
What is not the best? Well, “Bad Santa 2” certainly has its flaws, including unremarkable production values and a terribly flimsy narrative that would fit nicely into a “Police Academy” reunion film, and that is not a compliment. From that perspective, the movie reminds me of “The Heat” (2013) with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. In other words, ignore the tired, formulaic construct and just enjoy the comedic performances.
“Bad Santa 2” is not the biggest or best cinematic present that theatres will receive this holiday season, but it is an amusing (and very rated R) stocking stuffer.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.