Generic Christmas movies are a dime a dozen, so one doesn’t have to look far to add something new to their annual rotation of Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. One would hope that a studio would take a risk in such a market, like last year’s yuletide-themed horror flick, Krampus. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ve been deemed naughty this year and given coal in the form of Bad Santa 2, a completely unnecessary sequel trying but failing to recapture the audience’s nostalgia for the original Bad Santa.
Taking place 13 years after the original film, former burglar and perpetual alcoholic Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is back to working dead-end jobs to make ends meet. When his previous partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox) comes to him with a new score in Chicago, a Christmas charity for orphans, Willie reluctantly joins him. Things get even more complicated when Willie discovers that Marcus’ other partner in the heist is Willie’s estranged mother Sunny (Kathy Bates). With only days until Christmas, Willie dons a Santa suit to pull off his last big robbery.
The few positives the film has are in the acting department. Thornton is perfect for this role, embodying a crotchety nihilist view of the holiday season but playing it completely straight and without any sense of fourth-wall-breaking self awareness. Thornton’s deadpan delivery and natural talent at playing the straight man to Cox, and Bates’ wildcards work wonders for an otherwise by-the-numbers film. Bates is also great as Willie’s even more unscrupulous and deviant mother, showcasing an unexpected knack for comedy given her role in Misery.
Unfortunately, that’s where my good will toward Bad Santa 2 ends. Despite boasting a cast that clearly has fun with their roles, the writing itself is so woefully uneven that it can’t be saved by sheer actor charisma alone. For every joke that lands, there are about three that miss — hard. Screenwriters Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross are overly keen to return to running gags, such as Marcus’ small stature or Willie’s hapless sidekick Thurman (Brett Kelly), which results in a monotonous flow for long stretches of the film. Punctuate the run-into-the-ground gags with some raunchy sex scenes straight out of a Santa-themed porno and you have Bad Santa 2’s idea of comedy.
There’s also a strange disconnect between Willie as a character and the rest of the film, mainly in the clash between styles of comedy. Thornton’s dry wit and subdued slacker approach to his jokes don’t jive with Cox and Bates, who are constantly shooting out one-liners and innuendos. That’s not to say disparate comedic styles can’t coalesce to make something great (cf. Caddyshack), but they need to be joined together by a script that gives each of them off something to work. The littering of subplots throughout the film, such as Willie’s fling with the charity owner or Sunny’s declining health, prevents the jokes from feeding into a cohesive narrative and it comes off as very scattershot.
For all you anti-holiday curmudgeons out there, Bad Santa 2 won’t satisfy that itch you feel this time of year. It’s just as milquetoast as the more standard Christmas fare currently in theaters, made worse by the lack of sleaze or comedic edge to make it truly memorable. To indulge in an apt seasonal metaphor, it’s about as exciting as finding a cold lump of coal in your stocking Christmas morning.