It’s been around 13 years since Bad Santa hit screens to a positive reception. Vulgarity and crude humour was the name of the game, but the key to the film’s success was the inclusion of character-focused wit, a strong central performance and an undercurrent dose of heart that sat it comfortably in the Christmas movie genre, even if it was in the adult section. Bad Santa 2 discards the aforementioned positive factors to focus almost exclusively on rude humour, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing…if there were more than a few smirks to be found.
Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willie Soke, who teams up with now-out-of-prison Marcus (Tony Cox) to rob a Chicago charity. To complicate matters, he finds that his estranged mother (Kathy Bates) is in on the job and that Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly – yep, the young boy from the first film) is simply unwilling to let him disappear from his life. Hilarity attempts to ensue.
Director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) brought a certain charm to Bad Santa‘s decidedly crude stylings; sequel director Mark Waters, despite having helmed the much-loved comedy Mean Girls, shows he simply doesn’t have the same necessary touch. Waters and screenwriters Johnny Rosenthal & Shauna Cross move awkwardly from one poorly structured and placed sketch to another, and you’re either on board or you’re not. This viewer wasn’t.
Admittedly, there may be a few moments of lowbrow humour that some viewers could appreciate, but for the most part the jokes consist of cuss-filled verbal disses. If you’re keen on piling up a few more insults for your enemies, take a notepad, pen and scribble away. Also, there are sex jokes a plenty, although many will be left unsatisfied. Willie’s still a horny alcoholic, and true to comedies of this nature, it doesn’t take too long before he’s getting lucky in what one can assume are supposed to be amusing, knee-slapping sexual activities.
Thornton is still adequate as the titular low-life with a heart that threatens to beat, but the effort simply isn’t there. Willie is inherently downbeat and dry, so Thornton’s lucky to have the perfect role to coast by in. It’s a shame to see some of these cast members working with dull, often cringe worthy material like this. Kathy Bates does paint a character that almost carries some sort of depth, but even she can’t get past the script’s limitations. And as a charity worker Willie must get close to, Christina Hendricks could fare the worst of the lot, although it’s hard to say with a team of personas so unlikeable and forgettable.
At 92 minutes in length, Bad Santa 2 thankfully doesn’t drag out its flimsy plot in search of more one-liners or lazy attempts at edgy scenarios. The tacked on sentiment towards the end also falls flat, only before one more gag involving oh-so hilarious testicles. It’s ironic really, considering the balls needed to at least tackle gross-out humour that delivers, you know, grossness.