Thirteen years ago, Terry Zwigoff unwittingly spawned a loosely related set of films focused around usually good people doing bad things. Bad Teacher, Bad Grandpa and another 2016 comedy, Bad Moms all following in the footsteps of Zwigoff’s semi-cult dark comedy, Bad Santa. Well, the time has come to dust off the old IP that shows the crass, vulgar, drunk, sexed up Santa Clause that is Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie Soke in Mark Waters Bad Santa 2.
Bundled alongside the perennially vomit soaked Santa suit wearing Thornton, are previous films stars Tony Cox as the equally vulgar elf-costume wearing Marcus, Brett Kelly as the Kid all grown up, and new to the ‘series’ Kathy Bates as Sunny Soke – Willie’s tatted up, white trash, half-a-brain mother – and Christina Hendricks as Diane Hastings – the co-coordinator of a homeless shelter. Each play their part in a semi-retelling of the first films plot – that is, how to steal money from people with more than Willie has at Christmas time.
Now, it’s been a long time since I saw the first film – in fact, it was Christmas Eve in 2003 that I last saw it, and I recall finding it amusing, if ultimately forgettable. The trademark dark, crass comedy is in abundance here, and no doubt the excessively anti-PC comedy will ruffle a few feathers here and there. For some, the comedic elements of seeing a drunk, older man pissing into his mail, and eventually managing to bang the hottest woman he meets in an alleyway, while also berating (read: racially insulting) his black smaller stature ‘friend’ may have grown tired as that particular trope has been worn thin over the years – or rather, has been seen for what it is, dated, mean spirited comedy. For many others who are less concerned about the moral compass of their comedies, then this will hit some of the right notes for them.
What does work in Bad Santa 2 where films like Dirty Grandpa have failed, is that even though Willie and co.’s actions are disgusting and vulgar, they are fairly low key and somewhat tolerable. Willie is, for the most part, a man who is keen to keep his solitude just that – solitary. He doesn’t intentionally insert himself into other peoples lives, and as long as he’s got a bottle of some kind of hard liquor near by, then he’ll be fine. On paper it’s hard to understand why characters like Christina Hendricks Diane Hastings would want to have Willie’s, well, willie anywhere near them; but even though the film does stretch believability, the above average performances from Hendricks and Thornton somehow manage to make the idea that she would sleep with him palatable. Look, this isn’t high brow stuff and you’ll most likely forget the film as soon as you leave the theatre, but the key is that as long as you buy into what’s going on on screen while you’re watching it, you’ll should have a good enough time.
Surprisingly, the relationship between Willie and his estranged mother Sunny Soke works quite well. It’s a well worn plot we’ve seen many times over – and it doesn’t take a genius to realise where it’s going either – but, there’s a reason why actors like Kathy Bates and Billy Bob Thornton have been working for decades: they can find the honesty within the bag of stolen money and for brief moments, you get a glimpse of some kind of humanity in these characters. This is nothing more than a paycheck gig for these actors, but they still put the effort in where it counts, and Bates definitely seems like she’s enjoying herself at times. Sunny is easily the most contentious character – she’s outspoken, against anything that could be considered politically correct, is only concerned about number one – herself. In a post-Trump world, it’s hard to find empathy for such a character, but Bates puts in the effort where it counts.
Unfortunately where Bates and Thornton excel, the plot leaves them high and dry. It’s frustrating to see that promising actors are given so little to work with. Sure, the one liners that Thornton throws out with ease land most of the time, it’s just disappointing that there is little interest in the people they’re stealing from, and the film fails to give them a solid enough motive to actually want to steal money other than, well, they just want money. The heist/robbery aspect of the first film was easily the most forgettable element, so to have the climax of the film focused on that steals away any possible comedic moments. All attempts to make worthy ‘villains’ out of Ryan Hansen and Jeff Skowron’s conniving duo fail completely – instead presenting a bunch of scenes that would have been better served left on the cutting room floor.
Supporting work from Tom Cox, Brett Kelly and Jenny Zigrino is good and each are given their moment to shine. Cox’s foul mouthed Marcus’ endeavour to get himself in Zigrino’s security guard Gina’s pants is oddly sweet and almost touching. Brett Kelly’s kid-grown-up Thurman Murman is like a dog who’s lost his owner as he treks across the country to be reunited with surrogate ‘dad’ Willie. Unlike the comedy directed at Willie, you never laugh at Thurman, but you also don’t get much more than him being overly optimistic and excessively dimwitted, making him extraneous to the greater plot. The less said about Octavia Spencer’s prostitute Opal the better – she’s an Oscar winner, she doesn’t deserve to be in roles like this!
When Miramax first announced in 2010 that they were going to mine their back catalogue for potential sequels, many feared that we would suddenly have Shakespeare in Love 2: Love Harder and The English Patient 2: The Brexit Years appearing on our screens. With films like Bridget Jones Baby and Bad Santa 2 now being the resulting films from this IP cash-grab – one has to ask, why now, and why so late? The target audience for a Bad Santa sequel will enjoy this regardless – and there’s certainly worse films to see in a theatre – but to drag a sequel out thirteen years after the original feels like a wasted opportunity. Should we have had to wait this long for something that – like Christina Hendricks in an alleyway – seems like a sure thing? Probably not.
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox
Writers: Johnny Rosenthal, Shauna Cross