Bad Santa 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Broad Green Pictures
Directed by Mark Waters
Well this certainly seems necessary, right? I mean, who WASN’T clamoring for Billy Bob Thornton to don the red suit once again and try to catch lightening in a bottle twice!? Comedy sequels are already a bad idea to start with, but when we get one that’s not only this many years after the fact but also for a movie that’s REALLY freaking good? What the hell is the point!? Is there really much more that we need to learn about Willie that wasn’t already covered in the first film? I mean, we DO get his mother this time around so maybe it will fill in some of the gaps of how he ended up as a drunken piece of trash, but it’s hardly necessary considering how well the role was fleshed out the first time around! Still, maybe there’s some hope for this one! After all, at least they didn’t completely recast the damn thing like Kindergarten Cop 2 or The Tooth Fairy 2 (ugh…), so maybe that’s a sign that they actually care about this one! Yeah… the bar is still really low and I’m not expecting too much from this. Will this at least be funny enough to justify its existence even if it can’t match up to the original, or was this just a cash-in for everyone who could be bothered to come back? Let’s find out!!
The story follows the exploits of Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) who it turns out DID NOT have a happy ending as he ended up going back to the bottle and pissing away whatever goodwill he built up with the last movie. Well… ALMOST all the goodwill as Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) still thinks he’s the bee’s knees and brings him sandwiches whenever he can. Unfortunately ham and cheese on wheat don’t seem to lift Willie’s spirits as much as you’d expect they would, but after a series of suicide attempts he’s given a chance to sort of get his life back on track. It turns out that Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) just got out of jail and needs someone to help him with a heist in Chicago that’s being set up by a third party associate. With nothing else to do other than drink another bottle and suck on a shotgun, Willie decides he might as well put his safe cracking skills to use and agrees to join him… but it turns out the mysterious associate is actually his mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) and they have a… complicated history. With only a few days before they have to steal a shit ton of money from a local charity, will they get their act together long enough to not get caught? What about Thurman who wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his favorite Santa and is still unaware of just how awful of a human being Willie is? IS he finally gonna get his heart broken by the one person on Earth he’s somehow idolized all these years? Just what kind of charitable organization was dumb enough to hire these three scumbags!?
I actually liked this movie! Sure, it’s not as good as the original which never seemed like a possibility here, but even so it manages to get a lot of things right that made the first one so memorable; particularly in its characterization and oppressively dour atmosphere that made the moments of optimism, joy, and sincerity, all the more palatable. All of that is in this movie which is more than I’m guessing anyone was expecting, and while it doesn’t quite deliver on the humor as well as the first one, it still manages to elicit a good amount of chuckles and even a few solid laughs. Where the movie starts to fall apart is when it tries a bit TOO hard to be like the original with a lot of references to that film and even recreates some of the bits which is what I’m sure everyone was expecting when they first heard they were doing a sequel this long after the original, and those definitely bring the movie down a bit. Even with that problem and some weak story beats here and there (the villain this time is depressingly underdeveloped), I can’t help but feel mostly positive about this considering how much I enjoyed the characters and how much the emotional gut punches hit home for me. Maybe I’m an easy mark for the kind of saccharin sweetness they throw in here to offset the grimy awfulness that is Willie’s day to day existence, but it hit a lot of the same notes for me as the first one did and that’s honestly all I really needed from this sequel which could have been a hell of a lot worse.
The biggest challenge for this movie (as is also the case with every other comedy sequel) is to justify its own existence and find a way to overcome the projected cynicism of rehashing the old material. While this movie doesn’t COMPLETELY overcome that challenge, it manages to get most of the way there by leaning into the premise of the original. These are all terrible people and the only happiness Willie managed to get was by briefly thinking about someone else and trying to be selfless in his own horrible and misguided way. With that kind of story and with a character this despicable, it actually makes sense that we’re essentially going through the same kind of story once again. Remember; the first movie BEGAN with Willie swearing it was his last year and then returning to his life of crime the following Christmas. What else could you really expect from him other than to crawl his ass back into a bottle and end up back where he started? Same goes for our other two returning characters; Marcus and Thurman. Sure, the fact that they wrote themselves out of a corner on murder charges by claiming the prison as overcrowded (wouldn’t convicted murders be the LAST group you’d let go to free up space?) but beyond that there’s no reason why he WOULDN’T end up going back to Willie. What else does he have going in his life considering he’s spent the last decade in jail and the decade prior working with this one dude? Hell, I’m even glad they managed not to keep Thurman the same way as his character in the first one didn’t come off as an awkward youth and they address that here. Now I won’t argue with people who say that doing dumb guy jokes with this character and then using him being on the autism spectrum as an explanation for that is anything less than straight up offensive, but I did like his character in here despite that, and one of the strengths is just how much Willie genuinely cares for him no matter how much he tries to pretend otherwise. The only part of the sequel reset that came off as clunky was how they wrote out Sue and Thurman’s family. I don’t have a problem with her leaving Willie at some point (there’s only so much you can take when you’re dating an alcoholic asshole like him), but they simply write her off in the opening monologue when a bit more background on that could have eased the transition from that film to his one. On top of that, Thurman is treated like an orphan in this when he should have people other than Willy to glom onto; including Sue who I’m pretty sure was his guardian by the end of the first one. I mean, wasn’t his dad supposed to get out of prison at some point? What happened with that?
So they manage to sell some of the rehash elements here, but what about the new stuff? Well, it’s more of a mixed bag with Kathy Bates being one of the best things about this movie, but with most of the other new characters falling really flat; the worst being the villains. They’re barely in the movie, they’re motivations aren’t clear other than them being assholes, and they ultimately serve no purpose in the movie. None of the plot turns or obstacles that Willie and his crew have to face are in any way affected by these two shmucks that spend the whole movie trying to find out this mysterious new shitty Santa is when it seems pretty freaking obvious that he’s drunken criminal loser. Their presence is ultimately perfunctory which MIGHT have been forgivable if they had been funnier, but the two of them are so bland and pointless in here that they should have just cut them out entirely. The first movie had a solid villain with Bernie Mac’s Gin Slagel who was well written and integral to the plot. Here? They don’t have as much to do so they can’t exactly RUIN the film, but they are a sever step down from what was one of the best aspects of the first one.
Christina Hendricks and Jenny Zigrino, while not as bad as the villains, are similarly useless here as two sort-of love interests for Willie who don’t hold a candle to Lauren Graham in the first one. They have a LITTLE bit to do here to move the plot along, but they’re honestly just hanging around to do the worst material in the movie; namely over the top sex jokes. The idea that either of these women would find Willie anything but repugnant is laughable and not in the good way. True, Sue was too good for Willie in the first movie, but the reason it worked there leads into another problem with this movie. The last film felt almost like a proto Tim and Eric bit in that the setting is just as much a reminder of sadness and apathy as Willie was. In that kind of environment, you can buy Willie not only finding one hot chick to have sex with but also managing to keep his job as a shitty mall Santa. In here, because this is a sequel, they feel the need to pump everything up and make it all bigger and shiner, so instead of a mall Santa he’s part of this prestigious charity organization that already has like thirty freaking Santas working for it. Not only that but the TWO women who are absolutely enthralled by him clearly have their shit together; one as the co-founder of the charity organization, and the other as a likable and enthusiastic security guard at said organization. The whole scenario here is harder to buy than it was in the first film which makes any scene that isn’t laser focused on our primary characters that much more inferior to when it was done in the last film.
Fortunately, it really is that cast of characters, primarily Willie, his mom, Marcus, and Thurman, that salvage this movie and keep it from feeling like a completely pointless rehash. In particular, Kathy Bates as the newcomer here manages to fit right in with the rest of the crew and actually manages to wring just as much heart of her scenes with Willie as much as Thurman does with his scenes. Tony Cox is kind of just on hand to do short jokes, but the guy manages to sell the role incredibly well. Is he a great actor conveying his frustration and exasperation that he’s still stuck in the same place after all this time, or was Tony Cox pissed that he had to say yes to this sequel? Either way, it ends up working for his character whose distaste for everyone he’s forced to work with is palpable. Whenever this movie tries to be a SEQUELTM is when the cracks start to show in this material; not only from the lousy writing and useless characters that are all part of the charity subplot, but also when they very blatantly rip off some of the funnier scenes from the first movie (the excuse to get him to talk dirty to kids who sit on his lap is a pointless plot detour that stops the movie dead for ten minutes). The worst SEQUELTM moment has to be when they throw in Santa Con right at the end for no reason and it feels like shameless studio product placement which undercuts what had made this movie (and the first one) work. Seriously, the Santa Con shown here is about as rowdy as a block party which is particularly perplexing considering we have recorded incidents of motherfuckers just like Willie getting out of control and shitting in garbage cans. In THIS movie, they’re gonna clean all that up? Yeah… no. Fuck that.
When this movie is NOT trying to go big and is getting back to basics with our characters, that’s when the movie shines and fortunately there’s enough of that in here to make the movie watchable and downright funny at times. Half the movie I can take or leave, but that other half works way better than a sequel like this has any right to be. This certainly isn’t a classic and obviously isn’t going to be as unexpectedly brilliant as the first one was, but it is a decent enough watch and I enjoyed myself enough to give it a recommendation. Should you see it in the theaters? Probably not. The half of this movie that’s not all that great can be a real drag if you have to see it in a theater, so wait for this to show up on Netflix or something where you can tune out the boring scenes and focus on the parts with the four main characters bouncing off of each other. Just watch the original again this holiday season, but don’t forget to check this when the blu ray is released during… what, Valentine’s day? Oh! Maybe they’ll release it on St Patrick’s day!
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Bad Santa 2 [Blu-ray]