It’s Thurman Merman’s 21st birthday and he’s bursting with oblivious optimism as he asks Willie if he’s going to “pop his cherry.” Willie returns his naivety with frustrated contempt. “Bad Santa 2” does have its brief moments where your fondness for the original film reminds you why in theory a sequel to director Terry Zwigoff and writers Glenn Ficcara and John Requa’s instant Christmas classic was a good, if precarious idea. The second film attempts to replicate the formula of the first film but with a frustrating amnesia. You’re meant to believe Willie is incapable of reform. You’re meant to believe that Willie would go back and work alongside Marcus. You’re meant to believe that Willie is so stupid as to be lured into the trap of being double crossed once again. We’re also meant to believe that Thurman’s weirdness was going to continue unabated while Lauren Graham’s Sue/Mrs Santa and Willie were in his proximity. We’re meant to believe that another stint in jail when a home and a new weird and wonderful family was holding a candle would have little to no impact. That’s a lot to reset for an audience of fans coming back for a second helping of their favourite crass anti-Christmas film.
Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is broke again, stuck doing a menial job badly until he’s fired. Not even the blaze of naivety from the now upsized and equally dim Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) can stop him from wanting to end it all. His former partner Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) is released from prison and wants to pull together the old crew to refresh the old scheme; this time adding Willie’s mother Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates) into the mix. It’s fitting that the star of “Misery” is here for the torture that follows.
This time the caper is robbing from a crooked charity, which seems to be all the more heinous because to infiltrate the charity they must solicit money from generous folks at Christmas. The original film preyed upon the greed of a shopping centre whose money is insured for theft, so it massaged the impact to the people already scarred by Willie playing Santa. Billy Bob Thornton is a terrific performer but even he seems tired of this dance without any new stakes. Even he doesn’t take any perverse enjoyment in sex with curvaceous women like Christina Hendricks’ Diane and Jenny Zigrino’s Gina. And what’s worse is that Gina rubbed salt in Marcus’ wounds by shagging any unwashed thing with a heart beat but refusing to give the little man a go.
Willie and Marcus’ arguing is a sad remix of the original jokes. When the characters own the repetition, but the meta doesn’t give them permission to continue it actually heightens the feelings that these characters deeply and profoundly dislike one another. The arrival of Willie’s mother, a materialisation of all of the heinous ‘your mother’ jokes of the original is a dark prophecy. The charm of the original film (and the deplorable things that they say to each other) is that Marcus keeps Willie from crashing and burning because of the value that he adds to their operation. This time around the entire operation reeks of desperation and characters who barely tolerate each other.
The film is thick with a roster of antagonists. Sunny (Bates), Marcus, Dorfman (Jeff Skowron) the bumbling security guard and Regent Hastings (Ryan Hansen) whose name won’t be familiar but if I was to describe him as the douche bag head of this charity with sexual kinks and a penchant for embezzlement your memory may be jogged. All are totally forgettable.
They don’t even deserve to be in the same paragraph as the original film’s incredibly deep cast of unbelievable comedic talent that filled out a strange array of obstacles rather than traditional accomplices. Bernie Mac’s Gin, the sadistic head of mall security dishes out justice to the mall rats who stole by confiscating their property. Mac’s negotiation style is unforgettable - “Half”. John Ritter plays the P.C mall manager Bob Chipeska whose worry about a lawsuit for discrimination distracts from his impulse to fire Willie for messing around with plus sized women. Ritter spells out S. H. I. T. He’s perfect. Rest in peace two very different legends of American comedy.
Director Mark Waters with writers Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross needed to know that loving “Bad Santa,” is no excuse for “Bad Santa 2.”
At the conclusion of the film, Willie escapes incarceration and gets a job as a janitor in a homeless shelter, plucking scraps from the rubbish. Thurman, after leaving home and a paying job in Arizona follows Willie like a giant puppy human. There’s a weird prophecy being laid out for the filmmakers here; continue works of this quality and janitorial scavenging and homelessness is on your horizon.
*Thurman earns the star