Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa 2
This week I am attempting to watch all of the holiday-centric new releases and so far, while I haven’t hit the low of Love The Coopers, I also haven’t seen a seasonal gem like The Night Before. Christmas movies are hard to get right, which is why there are only three Christmas movies people actually like, plus It’s A Wonderful Life which is a stupid f*cking movie we’ve been conned into putting up with every year. Nothing I’ve seen so far this year suggests we’re going to get a new, good Christmas movie to revisit and enjoy year after year, starting with Bad Santa 2, which would be destined for the $3 DVD bin, if people still bought DVDs.
Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willie The Thieving Santa, but this time the action takes place in Chicago—as played by Canada—and the goal is robbing a charity. Bad Santa works because it’s a precise blend of raunchy humor and lonely-hearts romance, but Bad Santa 2 suffers from the passage of time—we’re no longer shocked by a cussing Santa Claus. These “bad examples of something typically good” comedies have become a sub-genre unto themselves, what with Bad Teacher, Bad Moms, Bad Words, and The Bronze (aka Bad Gymnasts)—how has no one made a Bad Dogs yet? With its central gimmick so thoroughly co-opted, Bad Santa 2 has nothing to fall back on and so it just doubles down on the cussing until the word “f*ck” loses all possible meaning.
None of the creative team of Bad Santa—which included the Coen Brothers doing an uncredited pass on the script—is back for the sequel, and you can tell there’s been a change in management. Bad Santa was gleefully misanthropic and vulgar, but it has slivers of real humanity to leaven the anti-cheer fest, such as the relationship between Willie and Sue (Lauren Graham), and also Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), the dorky kid to whom Willie becomes a reluctant father figure.
Kelly returns as Thurman in the sequel, still an awkward social misfit clinging for inexplicable reasons to Willie, but Lauren Graham is replaced by Christina Hendricks as Diane, socialite and charity organizer. She tries, but Hendricks and Thornton have so little chemistry it’s like they filmed their scenes separately and had their performances spliced together later, and the “romance” is more about degrading Diane than mining a kinky romance for laughs. In fact, this movie is terrible to women in a way that #1 isn’t, with Hendricks and Octavia Spencer suffering the worst of it.
Kathy Bates appears in the sequel as Willie’s mom, Sunny, and she’s as awful as you would expect a character in a Bad Santa to be. Bates is the closest thing to a “saving grace” this movie has, but not even she can turn Bad Santa 2 into something watchable for more than three minutes at a time. And when she proudly declares, “I don’t speak ‘politically correct’,” the line falls so flat you can hear it go splat. That might have passed for a joke in ye olden days, but this year, when “politically correct” has come to mean anyone or anything trying to treat all people with dignity regardless of circumstance, it’s actively painful, and the audience tangibly recoiled from the moment.
So Bad Santa 2 has a little bit of a timing problem—no one is in the mood for hateful people screwing charities out of money right now—but mostly it has a “story/character/joke” problem, which is a death knell for a comedy, or really, any movie. The vulgar delights of the first movie are gone completely, replaced with nothing, really. This is a movie that does not realize it missed its moment. Bad Santa 2 has to nail being a good comedy sequel and a good Christmas movie, and it fails on both counts. The result is a flaccid belly flop of a movie.