If I’m being 100% honest, there was little hope in my mind that Bad Santa 2 was going to course-correct itself into a sufferable bromide even before Tony Cox’s Marcus is compared to a member of the lollipop guild. Mind you, that’s not even close to the first joke made about his stature or the fact that he’s a black man. Indeed, Bad Santa 2 operates under the much-talked-about Equal Opportunity Offender Clause under the Bullshit Terms for Unfunny Bile Act of 2003, or whenever Norbit came out. Where the original occasionally toed the line of good taste without losing its demented sense of cheer, the sequel doubles down on the depravity, the earnestly coarse language, and the overall sense of cynicism and nihilism. Bad Santa is a dark comedy; Bad Santa 2 is a bitter comedy, or at least wants to be one.
Its calcified dislike for seemingly everything warm and sympathetic is apparent early on. We begin with the lovably perverse titular Claus-man, Willy (Billy Bob Thornton), about to hang himself when Thurman (Brett Kelly) pops back into his life. With the similar re-introduction of Cox’s character, the sequel already falls into the familiar get-the-band-back-together trap, attempting to rehash chemistry rather than deepen the same one or seek new relationships. In this case, it’s clear that Thurman is simply there to say awkward things to make him sound mentally challenged without ever coming right out and saying it. The character feels out-of-place in the rest of the narrative, wherein Willie and Marcus team up with Willie’s mother, Sunny, gamely played by Kathy Bates, for the inevitable one last heist, this time from a charity group in Chicago.
The plot unfolds largely as one would expect, with Willy, Marcus, and Bates’ materfamilias stabbing each other in the back and nastily bickering, beating, or debasing one another for their own bemusement. Little of any of this is funny – I counted two big laughs throughout its near-excruciating 93 minutes – and its trajectory from bottom-of-the-barrel caustic guffaws to a sheepishly good-natured ending is almost identical to the original story of how Willy and Thurman met. The added twist that Sunny is more abusive, manipulative, violent, and vindictive than Willy only factors into the narrative in that it somewhat explains how Willy turned out to be such an asshole.
Bad Santa 2 also operates as a thin, boring fantasy for sexists and genuine degenerates. In for Lauren Graham’s loving bartender is Christina Hendricks as Diane, one of the heads of the charity, who almost immediately accepts Willy’s not-so-gracious invitation to fuck him in a dirty alley. It’s not enough that a woman might very well be interested in a fling with such a noxious creature. The script has to make her interest borderline pathological and his ambivalence to anything beyond her body everlasting. Elsewhere, a saucy security guard rebuffs Marcus’ gentlemanly advances but goes wild for Willy’s base, indifferent allure. The world built by director Mark Waters and a small coalition of writers suggests that nothing is more intoxicating than a white, deranged alcoholic in a Santa Clause costume, which makes the “sweet” ending all the more off-putting.
Despite all of this, it’s important to remember that Bad Santa 2 was under no obligation to be a bad movie. Would that someone had handed a project like this over to a master of the dark arts like Todd Solondz, who has an astounding track record of bringing out a shattering humanity in the most bitter and unsettling of characters and scenarios. Waters, best known for helming Mean Girls, paces the movie well and has more than a few interesting compositions, but he offers no insight into the hellish miasma that the holiday season can be for many people beyond the caustic timbre of the screenplay. He may work hard to undermine the assumed familial joy of the holiday times in Willy and Sunny’s chaotic relationship but their history is only vaguely alluded to in filthy anecdotes. As such, their relationship, and the movie itself, comes off as a poor excuse to convey a few “edgy” words and jokes that might freak out the college-educated crowd. The fact that these gags and one-liners are meant to offend isn’t even half as criminal as the fact that the humor in Bad Santa 2 is repetitious, poorly timed, and devoid of any real feeling.
Bad Santa 2 arrives in theaters on November 23rd.