Movie Review: ‘BAD SANTA 2’ descends down the same chimney

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

BAD SANTA 2
Rated R, 92 minutes.
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony CoxChristina HendricksBrett Kelly and Octavia Spencer

It goes without saying that the holiday season is a big payday for the movies. So much so, that it looks like the studios depend on that just as much as the summer box office. It usually revolves around a hodgepodge of award contenders, an animated release, and comedy sequels that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. But hey, holidays equal nostalgia.

This season’s Thanksgiving holiday offers the same formula, with BAD SANTA 2 filling in the role of movie-that-should’ve-been-funny-but-is-just-a-terrible-rehash.

When BAD SANTA first debuted in 2003, it was a welcome, hard-edge comedy that was still in the vain of the holiday spirit. The down-on-his-luck protagonist found redemption in the end, achieving a makeshift family mired in affectionate dysfunction. 13 years later, and Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) has ruined everything and is back to square one. Thurman (Brett Kelly) is now 21 and hangs onto Willie as a father figure, despite his best attempts to push him away.

Marcus (Tony Cox) shows up after getting out of prison, and lures Willie in with another Christmas heist. This time it’s a Chicago charity that hauls in a big payday, and they have an insider to bring them in, Willie’s mom Sunny (Kathy Bates). It quickly becomes apparent that she is the source of Willie’s depression/alcoholism/cynicism/other isms. However, it’s a supposed $2 million haul, so Willie stays to help crack the safe, and the heist is on.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie Soke, and Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman in BAD SANTA 2. Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie Soke, and Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman in BAD SANTA 2. Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures

While the original had its raunchy behavior and language, what made those jokes work was that they were misnomers to the characters; they still had normal emotions and logic to ground the superlatives. It was still a story of a burglar who finds happiness as Santa, whether it be a love interest or a child. However, BAD SANTA 2, like most comedy sequels, looks to those jokes to be the main support of the story, and misses a lot of the time. While the jokes work well between colleague (Willie and Marcus), it is downright sad coming from his only family (Willie and Sunny).

Furthermore, regarding running with the wrong jokes, there is something that goes unattended throughout the whole movie: Thurman Merman. It’s interesting to watch this in comparison to the original because he is basically the same character. So, when the script goes for call backs to those jokes, it elicits a feeling of peculiar sadness now versus the hilarity the audience experienced in the original. There is a reason that Thurman hasn’t progressed or changed at all, and no one bothers to address it.

Also, the lust interest in this film is Diane (Christina Hendricks), who runs the charity with her husband. For a throwaway reason of “my husband hasn’t had sex with me in a decade”, she decides to get with Willie? Why? Because he said lewd things? It’s an unnecessary subplot that has no build, which is a microcosm of the glaring problem BAD SANTA 2 has throughout: It’s heartless. Sure, there are funny moments, but without the humanity, all the movie becomes is another comedy sequel poorly trying to cash in on the predecessor’s jokes.

BAD SANTA 2 opens nationwide on Wednesday (11/23).

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.