Review: Bad Santa 2 is rude, crude and cynical
Thirteen years is a long time between drinks for thieving mall santa Willie – so long, that it seems pointless to check in on him now. And Bad Santa 2 quickly proves that our favourite bigoted, alcoholic uncle isn’t so funny anymore – he’s just sad.
When it hit screens in 2003, Bad Santa stood alone as an original, delightfully crass concoction of equal-opportunity offensives. It’s balanced tone in the face of unrelenting nihilism was handled masterfully by art-house director Terry Zwigoff, who gave us gems like Ghost World and Crumb, and whose most deft skill is in infusing politically incorrect darkness with a melancholy, moving underbelly. There isn’t love under the bleak surfaces he weaves, but there’s hope.
Bad Santa 2 has none of that subversiveness or subtlety. Helmed by director Mark Waters (who has given us both classics like Mean Girls and forgettable fluff like Just Like Heaven) the follow up film is slicked up, but stripped downof its anti-establishment heart – telling a ruder, cruder and significantly more cynical story.
The plot follows essentially the same trajectory as the first film – there’s a heist, a cartoonish villain desperate to foil the protagonists, a last minute double cross, and a succession of beautiful women inexplicably drawn to having filthy sexual encounters with a booze-soaked and barely-washed Billy Bob Thornton. Which is the kind of logic you won’t find outside of a porn film; in the first flick, the dirty sex was played for surreal laughs. Here, the depravity is amped up, but comes across as murky and depressing.
There’s some weak plan to rob a charity – Willie teams up with his estranged mum, Sunny (Kathy Bates) and his old cohort, Marcus (Tony Cox), whose main job here is being the brunt of little person jokes.
Kathy is a stand out, of course – she plays the foul-mouthed, punk-rock attired, jailbird mama with some genuine spunk. Which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast. Billy Bob and Tony in particular deliver their dead-eyed lines like they’re waiting for the catering truck to roll in between takes. But nobody seems overly stoked to be on set.
Christina Hendricks also pops up as Diane, the owner of the charity Willie and co plan to knock off – but her sexual interest in Willie plays out as convincingly as the fantasies of 14-year-old boys on 4Chan. She’s not a quirky enough character for any of her behaviour to make sense, and a vague throwaway about her sex addict past is a lame justification for the sleaze that follows. Worse still, Willie doesn’t even seem into her, maybe because Billy Bob looks so utterly detached during his various sex scenes. It’s like he’s closing his eyes and thinking of his mortgage.
There are umpteenth more vile jokes in this instalment than there were in the first, but they constantly fall flat and hard on their faces in an empty, echoing room. And if I ever hear the term “shit stick” again I might scream. It wasn’t funny the first time, nor the next ten.
There was potential here – the best scenes happen early on, and are between Willie and Thurman (Brett Kelly), the intellectually challenged boy who redeems Willie in the original film. Now a 21-year-old sandwich shop hand and still possessing his bonkers Ralph Wiggum-esque charm,
Thurman hasn’t lost his original appeal. An exchange where Thurman merrily chats to Willie as the despondent drunk shoddily attempts suicide is one of the only genuinely funny moments in an otherwise starkly miserable plot, and hints at what could have been.
But the spark is quickly lost – a last minute attempt at re-creating familial affection between Willie and Thurman (complete with an ineffective nod to the first film’s hilarious advent calendar gag) feels painfully forced. A film about the two of them, who still have fantastic chemistry when they play off each other, would have been a much more entertaining prospect.
Bad Santa has its fans, of which I am one – it hasn’t aged remarkably well in an era where jokes about racism, homosexuality, alcoholism, sexism and disability aren’t quite so funny anymore. But at the core of the original film was a sense of rebellion, of sticking it to the man and flouting social norms, that celebrated the spirit of outliers and outsiders – even the crummy ones. That, in it’s own sardonic way, was inspiring.
Bad Santa 2 is an entirely different film. It’s a bad movie about bad people, and that’s a shame.
Bad Santa 2 is in cinemas now.
Review by Marta Jary