Directed by: Mark Waters Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks Running Time: 92mins
Bad Santa 2 opens with our lead character sticking his head in an oven, attempting to kill himself by way of ‘inert gas asphyxiation’. Set thirteen years after the original film Bad Santa, Willie Soke (played by the ever-watchable Billy Bob Thornton) is no longer enjoying the happy ending he seemingly achieved at the conclusion of the previous installment. His life has become a living nightmare of alcoholism, loneliness, despair and banal repetition. He sees fit to end it all lest he be subjected to any more of life’s countless tortures.
Unfortunately the oven is electric.
And so begins a halfhearted rehashed excuse for a plot that involves getting the old gang back together to rob a Christmas charity of the millions of dollars that reside in their safe. Together, the angry humbug Willie, his angry dwarf friend Marcus (Tony Cox) and his angry ex-con mother Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates) must go undercover – working for the charity as a street Santa, an Elf and Mrs. Claus, to pull off the heist. Suffice to say none of them are particularly happy about this.
Also along for the ride is Willie’s happy-go-lucky surrogate son of sorts from the first film, Thurman Merman (who along with Marcus, finds his perceived impairment being the butt of far too many of the film’s incredibly lazy jokes), and Diane (Christina Hendricks) the charity’s director and ultimately the willing object of Willie’s wildly inappropriate affections.
The original Bad Santa was a surprisingly effective dark comedy that offered some insight into the vacuous and often depressing nature of everyone’s “favorite” winter holiday. Released in 2003, the film came at a time when its mean-spirited comedy was a refreshing alternative to the usual sickly-sweet Christmas fare. Bad Santa 2 on the other hand is crude, vulgar, and just plain mean. The film’s endless barrage of sex jokes and curse words is numbing from the get go. Many of the jokes border on outright offensive – a problem only compounded by the fact they’re so dull and uninspired. In the films entire (arduous) hour-and-a-half run time there are perhaps two moments that are even vaguely worthy of a mild chuckle.
What’s bizarre is that, unlike its predecessor, the holiday theme in Bad Santa 2 has almost zero bearing on the plot of the film as a whole. Beyond the surface level details of its initial setup the script offers little pay-off to what should be its central conceit of yule-time discontent. With a simple name change the film could just as easily be set in mid July. The one or two brief scenes that do actually follow through on the premise of the film’s title – with the gang posing as Santa and his helpers – are among the most effective moments on offer, but also the most disconnected.
In all honesty, a good 70% of the film has no bearing on the plot and simply consists of the core cast sitting or standing around insulting each other. Subtleties of performance aside each of the three main characters are carbon copies each other – their humor, their demeanour, their dialogue – all interchangeable. Their roles could be swapped without changing the script more than one iota. In any case, the irreverent interplay between these characters is there to provide the comedic backbone of the film. This mostly consists of them telling each other to “shut up” or “f— off” at every available opportunity, then doing it again for good measure.
While Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates are saddled with an unfortunate script, both do their best to carry the material. Kathy Bates in particular seems to be making the best of a bad situation, having a blast with the more outlandish aspects of her role. Thornton seems to just naturally exude the kind of perfect, dry, grumpy, cavalier attitude necessary to sell the character. He is comfortably at home playing Willie Soke. Perhaps a bit too comfortable – there’s a certain weariness to his performance that doesn’t feel like it’s part of the role. But Thornton on autopilot is still more entertaining than many of his peers bringing their A game.
With much of Bad Santa 2 simply going through the motions, and Willie occasionally bemoaning the fact that he could have avoided all this if he had only had the right kind of oven, his state of mind in the opening scenes increasingly serves as the perfect metaphor for the film itself – banal, torturous and begging for the sweet release of death. Whether by gas inhalation, or the bumping off of a few money hungry studio execs looking to add a certain bird to their festive spread, it would have been better to put this film, and us, out of our misery.(1 / 5)