Movie Review: Bad Santa 2
R | 1h 32min
Director: Mark Waters
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox
by Jason Koenigsberg
Thirteen years ago Bad Santa opened up in theaters and became a surprise hit with critics and audiences. Most of it was because of the performance from Billy Bob Thornton and director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) who knew how to balance the raunchy humor with a lot of heart. It combined themes of loneliness and the importance of having familial relations and friendships during the holiday season. This time around director Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Mr. Poppers Penguins) has no idea what to do with these characters. Bad Santa 2 exists solely for nostalgic and monetary reasons.
When the first Bad Santa premiered it was released a few weeks after the huge holiday hit Elf and a lot of people declared it Elf‘s black sheep cousin. In many ways it is, but because of the presence of Billy Bob Thornton and the late John Ritter, Bad Santa actually feels more like a spiritual follow up to Billy Bob’s Oscar Winning Sling Blade. Both deal with misfit children that feel alone and have inadequate parental guidance, both deal with friendship, alcoholism and are a sharp and scathing commentary on American values.
Bad Santa 2 has some hints of that. It was nice to see Billy Bob Thornton respectfully reprise his Santa character Willie, who has become one of his most well known, and Kathy Bates as his mother has some funny moments. But what they did to Thurman Merman, The Kid, all grown up was just pathetic. Brett Kelly is back and just as awkward and dimwitted as he was in the last film as a middle school aged outcast.
The films opening shot is of cacti and a desert landscape over a Christmas song, establishing the sarcastic tone of Bad Santa 2 right away. We then get a nice introduction to Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie which ends with a surprise twist and one of the movies biggest laughs. The exposition then gets underway through his narration explaining what happened since the last movie. As stated before making the kid just as stupid as an adult did not do that character any justice and works only for comedic moments in the film. Tony Cox is back as Marcus his pint sized sidekick for another heist, even though he betrayed him in the last film. Even Octavia Spencer, now an Oscar winner, reprises her small role as a hooker. No Lauren Graham, and sadly John Ritter and Bernie Mac have passed away since the first Bad Santa, and all the new characters are either uninteresting or given little to do. A travesty considering Christina Hendricks could have made a bigger impression with her sultry role but was not fully realized in the script. Once again Kathy Bates is the only supporting performance worth commending as Willie’s degenerate, politically incorrect, foul mouthed mother.
They move the heist from Phoenix to Chicago so it feels more like a conventional Christmas movie with snow on the ground, which took away from its anti-holiday message from the first film. That hurt the mood but the biggest problem with Bad Santa 2 is that it focuses so much of its time on the actual heist. Nobody remembers the plot too well from the original movie because it focused most of the script on the characters which drove the story and the laughs. The more that Bad Santa 2 focused on the heist, the less laughs there were.
The script is not a complete waste. The dialogue is sometimes clever and uses profanity at well timed moments in certain scenes. Bad Santa 2 contains light laughs and is chuckle-worthy throughout. Just not as hilarious or heartfelt as the original and the whole time you might be thinking how unnecessary this film is. The result is not a terrible movie, just not one that is worth recommending, especially when there are so many better options at cinemas this holiday weekend.
Below is the trailer for the first Bad Santa from 2003. It is currently available to stream on HBO Go.