Movie Review: Bad Santa 2

Billy Bob Thornton is back as everyone's drunken Santa, but the sequel lacks originality

Bad Santa 2
Directed by Mark Waters
With Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly

There are only so many holiday cookies you can eat and family stories you can listen to politely before you need a good stiff drink. For the Scrooges among us, Bad Santa 2 serves as a brief escape from the ubiquitous holiday cheer.

As you can see from the title, this is a sequel to the 2003 anti-classic Bad Santa. Unfortunately, the film embodies everything that is bad about sequels as well, most of all that feeling of déjà vu all over again. For a most of the film, the cast seems to be going through the motions one more time just to cash a paycheck.

But there are some good things. Kathy Bates is by far one of the most versatile actors around, and has saved many a marginal film. 

Bates won an Oscar for Misery and has two other nominations. She also has Emmy Awards and Golden Globes. With her hair cut short and requisite tattoos, she throws 100 percent of herself into the role of Sunny Soke, the long-lost irresponsible former teen mother of Willie Soke, the safe-cracking Santa from the first film.

In Bad Santa 2, the streetwise mother comes up with a plan to rob a sketchy children's charity (the charity is sketchy, not the children). She dresses up as Mrs Claus to go ring bells on the street to raise money, with her hard-drinking son at her side as Santa.

Back also from the original is Tony Cox as Marcus Skidmore, a little person who plays a foul-mouthed elf. The three spend much of the film trading insults and cynical remarks. Marcus and Willie did not end on good terms in the first film, but 13 years have gone by and both once again need money. So they set the little incident of the shooting and betrayal behind them.

Also back from the original is Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman, who was the young boy who bonds with Willie in the original. Since 13 years have passed, he is now 21 but still believes in Willie and follows him around all the way to Chicago, where the sequel takes place. He adds a bit of innocent optimism to the dark tale.

The original film was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who has a unique and offbeat sense of humor. The sequel is by Mark Waters, whose previous efforts include Vampire Academy and Mean Girls. The original writers also did not return.

Some new characters just don't work as well as the filmmakers expected. A security guard assigns random levels to everything, a level three violation, a level nine surveillance, and so on. It just doesn't generate any laughs, no matter how many times it is repeated.

Some of types of jokes that worked in the original just come off as vulgar in the sequel. Willie and another character have sex next to a garbage container in an alley, while arguing over what dirty phrases to say, for example. It is not a one-off. The joke gets repeated.

In another subplot a volunteer at the charity has a fetish for homeless people. The humor in these scenes spreads thin pretty quickly. Other comic situations such as a fight between Santas over who can use a certain spot to raise money seem pretty forced, as if the writers came up with a check list of possible ways to create laughs and then wrote the story around them.

The plan to rob the charity also is not as detailed as the plan to rob the mall was in the first film. The writers this time seemed not to bother to work the whole thing out in sufficient detail.

Most of the scenes that work involve Kathy Bates, who is the one reason to see tepid sequel this rather than crack out the DVD of the original. But the DVD is a good option if you have it.

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