From the Archives: Bad Santa 2 review

From the Archives: Bad Santa 2 review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

As a rule, comedy sequels aren’t terribly good, most are outright terrible, and none exceed the original film. With this in mind I was ready to react with disaffected negativity to Bad Santa 2, a long-awaited(?) follow up to the 2003 Christmas comedy that, despite being critically acclaimed, left very little room/need for expansion. So it was much to my surprise that Bad Santa 2elicited many big laughs from my cold, dying heart, and managed to warm said heart to a seasonally appropriate temperature, all the while making a good enough case for its existence through unexpectedly strong(ish) character work. Against all odds I care about Willie Soke, our titular Santa. He is also a proud alcoholic, a womanizer, and a thief. Just a real piece of work, this one. Why is so likable? Probably because he’s surrounded by considerably worse people, which makes him comparatively worth saving. These people include his horrible mother (Kathy Bates, working!), his horrible ex-partner (Tony Cox, little!), and a horrible charity worker (I don’t feel like looking his name up!). There’s an attempt to do an “all your favorites are back” sort of thing, which is par for the course, but two of my favorites from the first film are deceased, and one is off making half-cooked sequels of her own for Netflix. At least they got Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly, having not aged a day).

BS2-08049 Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie Soke in BAD SANTA 2, a Broad Green Pictures release. Credit: Jan Thijs / Broad Green Pictures


So in the absence of so much of the original cast, Bad Santa 2 ups the ante, giving us a sort of origin story for Willie by way of exploring his relationship with his mother. It works better than it has any right to, but really it’s just another mouth through which the writers can showcase cleverly crafted insults. It’s in this aspect that Bad Santa 2 most resembles the original film. The foul language is pretty inspired, and since mean-spirited humor is a bit of a commodity these days, it’s a nice throwback. As unnecessary as it all is, it’s fun to watch Billy Bob Thornton be a bastard. He’s extremely good at it, and in without an uncredited Coen brothers polish to really give the character depth, Thornton’s curmudgeonly attitude is enough to keep Willie Sokes alive.

The plot is a loose rehash of the first film, heist and all, but instead of a mall it’s a Salvation Army-esque charity organization, and instead of Lauren Graham it’s Christina Hendricks. The plan is simple: during the charity’s yearly children’s choir performance, the safe where all of the donation buckets are kept will be left unattended, and our power trio of burglars will empty it out. Don’t worry, it’s all okay because the shady businessman behind the company keeps most of it for himself anyway. In the weeks leading up to the big night, Willie drinks, fights, and screws his way through Chicago. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Credit again to Thornton, who is patently incapable of phoning it in. The bar is low here, and he needn’t do much more than angrily recite his lines to clear it. Fortunately for us he digs deep, evoking a pathos in Willie – a sort of pathetic self hatred that not only speaks to his troubled youth, but hints at a kind soul too ashamed to appear soft. It’s adorable. Kinda like when you see a street cat with no tail and one eye.

Much like the original film, Bad Santa 2 exists in a strange unreality which can sometimes dampen the humor. There are moments when it’s absolutely impossible that no one would interfere with whatever tomfoolery is occurring, and the movie asks us just to have fun and forget it. Yet when any stakes are introduced, the film suddenly requires a firm grounding in reality. For example, there’s a pretty hackneyed moment where Willie is having sex with a woman at an outdoor Christmas tree lot. When bystanders (including children) overhear and eventually see the sordid act, they are shocked. Aaaaaand scene. I guess that’s just the end of it. No cops. No comeuppance. I mean, I don’t really need the movie to go there – the joke is made. But when the film turns around and tries to sell a moment where Willie is arrested for a drunken Santa brawl, it doesn’t line up.

It’s fine, though. It’s Bad Santa 2. What could possibly matter less?

Any issues I have with Bad Santa 2 are the same issues I have with every comedy sequel under the sun: it’s unnecessary, inferior, leaning on brand recognition, and is much too terrified to do anything new. But what separates Bad Santa 2 from so many other films of this type is that it made me laugh. Bonus points for not calling it Badder Santa.

Bad Santa 2 opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site

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