Undoubtably the dirtiest mainstream comedy of the year, Bad Santa 2 is lacking the critical elements of surprise and heart the first film had underneath its nihilist exterior. Billy Bob Thorton’s Willie Soke returns, as hung-over and down-and-out as ever, stuck in a dead-end job as a 50-something stock boy living in a crappy motel. He’s not good at anything; he can’t even get his own suicide right as he sticks his head into his oven only to discover its electric. In the middle of his botched suicide attempt, the slow-witted kid from the first film, Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), shows up, grown up and now working as a “sandwich artisan” at a sub chain. He still means well, even if he’s unable to read any signs of human behavior in a joke that falls quite flat.
Even though they should have left a good thing alone, Bad Santa 2 has moments that do feel somewhat fresh in their vulgarity, even if the basic story is rather boring. It’s one of those heist films where you simply don’t care very much about the plot, but that, I suppose, is not what you are here for. There’s a template for a good sequel that expands the universe, taking the characters out of their comfort zone. This year’s Klown 2, equally as vulgar and dirty-minded, sent its heroes on a new adventure both in fatherhood and Hollywood. This is not Willie’s first rodeo, although the film does provide some backstory in the form of his mom, Sunny (Kathy Bates), a juvenile delinquent who gave birth to him while serving time.
Recalled to Chicago, Willie re-teams with Tony Cox’s Marcus in an attempt to steal from a charity that collects money in a red bucket with Santa-suited volunteers (mostly drunks and the homeless). Run by Diane (Christina Hendricks) and Regent (Ryan Hansen), the charity has the very real problem of passing along too little of what they take in, despite operating a homeless shelter and other community programs. Marcus has teamed with Sunny, who has a contentious unresolved relationship — to say the least — with her son. As a con woman, she knows all the angles and encourages her son to take one for the team. She was once motherly in a bit of backstory that’s also quite gross.
Arriving 13 years later, Bad Santa 2 deserves some credit for “going there” even if the punch-lines don’t exactly pay off. The film is dirty for the sake of being dirty; I can’t name another film more obsessed with anal sex and tea-bagging and I’m familiar with the borderline pornographic work of gay filmmaker Bruce LaBruce. While I admire its gumption, audacity and willingness to repel its audience — especially given the current state of things as America threatens to evolve into a crueller place — it never offers much in the redemption department.
Rehashing some of the best and most memorable moments of Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 comedy, Bad Santa 2 is dirtier but certainly not funnier and it ultimately gives us less of a reason to care. Had the film offered up bigger laughs, a little more heart, or even a compelling character study this might be a little more forgivable, but this outing is far less groundbreaking and interesting than the first. Directed by Mark Waters from a script by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross, Bad Santa 2 is an unapologetically ugly experience by design, and like Willie, it chooses cheap, quick jokes, gags, and one-liners instead of going the distance and investing in something more meaningful: big comedic pay-0ffs.
Bad Santa 2 is now in wide release.