The second time was not the charm for Bad Santa 2, the late staged sequel to the 2003 R-rated cult comedy directed by Terry Zwigoff. With Mark Waters at the helm for this equally foul-mouthed, slightly more expensive second chapter, the film fell well below its twenty-six million dollar budget during a late fall release in 2016 from Broad Green Pictures. With a trio of notable ladies behaving badly this time around (including entertaining turns from Kathy Bates and a brief bit from Octavia Spencer), there’s enough crass humor here to please those in the mood for the light-night cable vibe the film achieves, though this is sadly sans the element of poignancy evident in the first film.
Thirteen years later, director Mark Waters (of Mean Girls and Mr. Popper’s Penguins fame) has the misfortune of directing this unnecessary resuscitation of Billy Bob Thornton’s nihilistic criminal from a rather wearying and derisive screenplay, penned by the unlikely duo Johnny Rosenthal (his feature debut) and Shauna Cross (who adapted He’s Just Not That Into You and Whip It). Despite choice casting and returning core characters, this yuletide formula is missing the requisite spice to reach the same heights of comedic arousal. Belabored antics and a contrived narrative extolling the virtues of choosing and cherishing one’s own familial unit makes this endeavor feel like lukewarm leftovers.
Drifting through his self-induced drunken effluvium in Phoenix, petty thief and miscreant Willie Soke (Thornton) bemoans the loss of a promising relationship thirteen years prior. With the exception of the now twenty-year old Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), whom Willie befriended as a ten-year-old, Soke doesn’t receive any visitors. When his old cohort Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) shows up suddenly, Willie is able to let bygones be bygones and forget their bad blood to take part in a new scheme involving robbing two million dollars from a charity in Chicago run by a troubled married couple (Christina Hendricks, Ryan Hansen), gearing up for a significant Christmas themed drive. Little does Willie know, Marcus is working for his estranged criminal mother (Kathy Bates) and the job involves impersonating Santa Claus, once again.
Dubiously filling in for director Terry Zwigoff is Mark Waters, a director who has worked tirelessly in studio produced, adolescent intended fluff since the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. Following the success of Mean Girls, he’s been responsible for a slew of forgettable family friendly ventures (The Spiderwick Chronicles; Vampire Academy), which is all rather disappointing considering his devious 1997 debut with indie film The House of Yes. Unfortunately, Bad Santa 2 is only a derivative rehash of the first film, delivering a nasty mish-mash of sexually inappropriate behavior as a tangential distraction from a rather routine heist formula, which requires the resurrection of Santa costuming to infiltrate access to the donations garnered by a well-meaning (if perilously handled) charity.
Players like Bernie Mac (rest in peace), Cloris Leachman, and Lauren Graham are replaced by the likes of Christina Hendricks and Kathy Bates. Both seem fair game for this, though Hendricks feels useless in a rather thankless role as a sobered, born again hussy with tendencies for tawdry, unprotected sex in dark alleys. Those who can appreciate a foul-mouthed gutter-minded Kathy Bates may find a bit to gloat over with her fun turn as Thornton’s deadbeat, con-artist mama—but it may inspire you to dust off your copy of Misery for a re-watch instead. Perhaps most ungainly is the reappearance of Brett Kelly, only ten years old at the time of the first film’s release. Here he’s the sweet natured simpleton who continues to be the butt of the joke, but seems tacked on illogically as a lazy way to instill a sympathetic streak in Thornton’s near unsalvageable misanthrope. Kelly’s presence does allow for one sequence of priceless hilarity featuring Octavia Spencer as a blonde bewigged prostitute, her brief moment of screen time begging for its own film.
Bad Santa 2 seems to aspirate its big blatant message about how we should believe people when they show us who they really are based on their actions, but also seems to ask forgiveness for those broken souls who force others to withstand a litany of abuses before revealing vulnerability. Too little and too late, Bad Santa 2 should have been smarter, sharper, and less flaccid than it is.
Bad Santa 2 arrives in a widescreen 1.85:1 transfer with 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. Picture and sound quality are serviceable, though most of its frills are probably more likely to be found on the release’s extra features.
Thurman Then & Now:
This two minute sequence makes comparisons to Brett Kelly’s casting as Thurman Merman in 2003 v. 2016.
Just Your Average Red Band Featurette:
A two minute segment celebrating the raunchiness of Bad Santa 2.
Thirty five seconds of cuss words from the film looped together to the tune Jingle Bells.
That’s My Willie – Original Animated Series:
A four minute animated cartoon piece featuring Willie and Thurman.
Over two minutes worth of deleted scenes, a gag reel, plus an alternate opening and ending are included on the disc.
Taking the notion of raunchy comedy to belabored levels, Bad Santa 2 sits somewhere between a missed opportunity and an unnecessary endeavor.
Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆