The “bad” Santa Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner-in-crime Marcus (Tony Cox) are back together for another round of dirty-mouthed festive villainy. Kathy Bates also joins them for this fun sequel to the Christmas hit of 2003.
Bad Santa 2 firmly positions itself in the alternative Christmas film category. Like its predecessor, it’s a coarsely scripted gutter scraping with liberal lashings of sex (this time in alleyways) and violence against the physically and mentally infirm. It’s also wildly funny. Our protagonists are nasty people. They know it. We’re along for the ride. Just have the soap at the ready. You’ll need a good wash afterwards.
It hasn’t been a happy time for former safe-cracking crook Willie (Billy Bob Thornton). The “bad” Santa has continued his downward spiral into a drink-fuelled early grave but is temporarily stopped in his tracks by ex-partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox) who has an idea for one last score. With nothing better to do, Marcus agrees only to find a big surprise in the offing when his mother (Kathy Bates) turns out to be the brains behind the operation.
The pairing of actors Thornton and Cox worked well in the original film and that hate-hate chemistry is rekindled here. These likable villains are only in it for themselves, using each other’s skill to rob people of their money only until it’s not necessary anymore. Add Willie’s child-abusing mother to the mix (“Hell, I didn’t even know I’d given birth until I tripped over him”) and you have this toxic trio, their misdemeanours consistently aiming to outdo the last vulgar reveal.
If the returning actors deserve credit for their efforts (Thornton is brilliant in this role again), which includes the now grown up Brett Kelly as the tragically abandoned man-child Thurman Merman, then Kathy Bates must surely earn a gold medal. Ever-dependable, Bates is game for Bad Santa 2’s foul-mouthed language, her greasy-haired performance adding an agreeable pathos lacking in her counterparts’ single-dimensioned personal attacks. She also has some of the best lines.
It is a shame the creative team behind the original film didn’t return for the sequel. The original has become a festive favourite and widely regarded as one of the best comedies of the 2000s. Director Terry Zwigoff and writer duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa were a lightning-caught-in-a-bottle team. That means Bad Santa 2 lacks some of what made the previous film special.
Not least the poignancy achieved in the relationship between Willie and pre-pubescent Thurman, a fittingly odd coupling that worked wonderfully well to counter balance the vile viciousness between Willie and Marcus. In Bad Santa 2, there’s attempts to reignite the relationship but it feels shoehorned into the story. That Thurman’s unfortunate family situation (his mother died young, his father ended up in jail) has left him worldly closeted is a tad too sad. It weighs down on the film’s overall effectiveness. It’s also a little too saccharine within an otherwise very unsentimental narrative.
For those that got a kick out of Bad Santa, the sequel ticks most of the right boxes. Its humour – bleakly sarcastic, disturbingly vile, steeped in personal attacks and self-serving unpleasantness – is an acquired taste. But the only people that get hurt are those throwing the sticks and stones. Bad Santa 2 had a tough act to follow. It isn’t as memorable, as funny, as moving, or as distinguished, but it is a damn good attempt at reviving the caustic good time of its predecessor.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Mark Waters
Written by: Johnny Rosenthal, Shauna Cross
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly
Released: 2016 / Genre: Comedy
Country: USA/UK/Canada / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Bad Santa 2 on DVD courtesy of Entertainment One. The film is out now on Digital & released on DVD/Blu-ray November 6.