Miserable, limp, and teeming with bitter ugliness, Bad Santa 2 is yet another wasteful sequel arriving too late and bringing with it far too little to make the thirteen-year wait worthwhile.
Not content to just leave us be with the original pieces of filmmaking that we already love, Hollywood’s served up another dish of reheated nostalgia in the form of the uninspired Bad Santa 2. There’s a common stigma that most sequels – especially comedy sequels – suck. Bad Santa 2 doesn’t make the slightest attempt towards bucking that trend.
The first film from 2003 was a sleeper hit starring Billy Bob Thornton as a drunken mall Santa named Willie who befriends a misfit kid while trying to pull off a robbery. It mixed crude humor with honest character moments and endeared itself to masses years after its initial release. Far from a box office smash, Bad Santa quickly became the stuff of cult legend: modest theatrical receipts, decent if un-enthusiastic critical notice, and it’s even funnier once you see it a couple of times. Bad Santa should’ve stayed in the cult sack of gifts alongside The Big Lebowski and Half-Baked as classic comedies that should remain as standalone comedic gems.
Unfortunately, none of the original Bad Santa’s creative spark can be found in its inexplicably dull sequel. It brings back the original leading man and his sidekick (Tony Cox) for another general retread of everything that worked the first time around but without the pacing, tone, or energy of the fun-loving Christmas romp it wants to be underneath all the grime and filth.
The story is a run-of-the-mill nonsense plot about Willie and Marcus teaming up with Willie’s horrible mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) to rob a charity in Chicago. It’s all an excuse to get Billy Bob and Tony Cox in Christmas outfits and let the swear words fly. Along the way Willie manages to seduce his boss (the talented and woefully wasted Christina Hendricks) and maybe learn a thing or two about the true meaning of Christmas from his ol’ pal Thurman (Brett Kelly, all grown up and none the wiser).
As with any comedy – or any piece of art, really – your enjoyment is ultimately going to be subjective. But there’s some lawful truth that lazy comedy does not stand the test of time. Bad Santa 2 is just another Dumb & Dumber To or Anchorman 2 or Zoolander 2: the times have changed, and they’ve all grown tone deaf and humorless in the interim.
Professionally as a film critic and personally as a guy who likes to laugh, I’m not much of a prude. I’m all for basking under a fountain of profanity pretty much anytime day or night, but it’s a difficult thing to wring a whole laugh out of a single curse word alone. Sometimes there’s nothing funnier than a well-placed f-bomb on its own but the way the language is used in Bad Santa 2 – piled on seven layers deep – numbs any potential impact. And there’s little wit to be found anywhere so all you’re left with is a repeated use of variations on the word “fuck” and an excess of shit-names that would make Jim Lahey embarrassed.
Saying a bad word isn’t automatically funny. Building up to that foul language, or including it in a barrage of witticism, is funny. Or, at least, it can be. Bad Santa 2 just decided to show up, say the nastiest shit possible, and assume the laughs will come rolling in. They don’t. The laziness on display here is palpable and even the least discerning of audiences should be able to sniff it out from the first scene onward.
It isn’t surprising that the writers give Willie some misogynistic things to say – that’s what Willie does, and sometimes the more vulgar it is the guiltier the laughs are. But it just doesn’t feel good that the film seems to have a completely misogynistic point of view. There’s no right to Willie’s wrongs and the women in the cast are all little more than eye candy with the (improbable) hots for scumbags in Santa suits. Bad Santa 2 misses the mark and only gets the first half of the term “tasteless humor” right. The Willie we all fondly remember from the first movie was a loveable drunk bastard; this iteration of Willie is just an asshole.
Broad swings for ‘shock’ comedy miss just as poorly as the smaller moments do: Willie punching his mom, who then alludes to being beaten by Willie’s father, is one of many moments of groan-inducing sexist bro humor that reeks up a foul stench over the course of 90 minutes. There’s an overwhelming smog of bromophobia over it all, making a bad situation even worse and even more uncomfortably intimidating. This type of comedy expired in the 1990s.
Nobody in this movie looks like they’re feeling it at all. Kathy Bates seems like she’s having some fun from time to time, but even she can’t hide the crushing weight of disappointment she must feel in herself and this film each time her character has to say something disgusting or degrading. If any real wit or thought were put into making those lines memorable or in any way funny then it would be a different story.
The original Bad Santa did this same type of humour quite well. It was un-PC in every way but done with an inkling of intelligence that suggested everyone was in on the joke along with us. In the end, the good guy aspects of Willie won over the cruel surface areas. The stars of Bad Santa 2 often look literally lost on screen, searching every corner for a quick zinger or at least something interesting to distract each other with.
This sequel is going to leave zero cultural footprint while the original will continue to be a holiday classic. Bad Santa 2 will fade from memory quickly in the same way that we all watch the first two Home Alone movies while never acknowledging the third theatrical film in the series (which, believe it or not, is something that exists).
If you’re in dire need of an R-rated comedy Christmas sequel watch A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas or even Friday After Next if you must. Or, better yet, watch the first Bad Santa because it’s still insanely funny over a decade later. Don’t waste your valuable holiday money on this lame sequel, spend it on something that will bring you joy instead of subjecting yourself to unpleasant dreck like this.
One lump of buttery coal out of five!