BAD SANTA 2 (5 out of 10) Directed by Mark Waters; Written by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross; Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly; Rated R for “crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity”; 92 minutes; In wide release November 23, 2016.
Some holiday family recipes depend so much on a specific alchemy and method that they simply can’t be replicated. 2003’s original Bad Santa is this exact sort of cocktail, and the sequel just can’t match the perfect melange it created.
Bad Santa 2 somehow manages to turn the formula of the original into a pale imitation of itself. Despite having most of the original cast back, and replacing Lauren Graham with Christina Hendricks (an at least lateral, if not upward, move) and adding Kathy Bates into the mix, it just isn’t the same.
And here’s where we understand a few incredibly important things: there’s no replacing John Ritter. And there’s no replacing Bernie Mac. Or Cloris Leachman. The heart– and beautiful awkwardness– that Ritter brought is in no way replicated here. And it makes you understand that the scenes between the cigar-chomping Mac and soft-spoken Ritter were key in breaking up all the alcoholism, self-loathing, and deviant sex to provide a creamy counterpoint to the biting boozy humor.
Our alcoholic former safecracker/mall Santa Willie is nearing the end of his rope, when he is recruited for one big final score with a huge payout by his former accomplice Marcus. When he finds out the target is a charity and the plan is set up by his mother (Bates), he wants to bolt. He is drawn back in by greed and attraction to the undersexed Diane Hastings, wife of the charity’s crooked president. She herself is on the level and sees Willie as a literal charity case– trying to get him to attend AA meetings. And of course Thurman Merman shows up.
The sequel seems to forget the basic premise of the first: it was a satire. It stuck a pin in all of the ridiculous decorating and commercialism of the season. It replaced it with a Santa fetish, an advent calendar filled with junk, and a wooden pickle covered in blood.
One bright spot is that they managed to get Thurman Merman back. Now 21, he’s still emotionally somewhere around 6. The possibly autistic Merman still works in forcing alcoholic Willie into having some small amount of humanity. The biggest problem with the film also lies in that it tries to give us a sort of happy, redemptive, hopeful ending. One of the best parts of Bad Santa was its ending was so incredibly bleak. By laying on the holiday treacle, it just turns this into more Christmas nonsense rather than the unflinching bit of December nihilism we wanted.
Still, there’s nothing else out there quite like Bad Santa. If you’re really jonesin’ for more from this, please try some. But for most people it’s a safe bet that we would get more entertainment out of watching the original and recognizing just how genius so much of it was.
5 out of 10