Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Badder is Right: Unnecessary “Bad Santa 2” smells like dried-up vomit with fewer laughs

Bad Santa 2 (2016)
92 min., rated R.

Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 outrageously vulgar, wickedly dark comedy “Bad Santa” was a matter of taste, especially if one’s taste aligned more with the Grinch and his aversion to schmaltzy holiday cheer. It had perfectly tuned performances and there was a seedy, dementedly lighthearted charm about it. Thirteen years later, the distinctly inferior sequel “Bad Santa 2” instead seems half-hearted and almost completely charmless, taking a piss on what the first film managed so deftly. It’s about as rude, dirty-minded, and politically incorrect as its predecessor, but no longer bracing and not even half as funny. If 2016 is the year of belated sequels—“Zoolander 2,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” "Finding Dory," “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Bridget Jones’s Baby”—then “Bad Santa 2” might be the most unnecessary and worst of the lot. Plain and simple: this should have never been made.

A little over a decade later and staying out of jail even without "Mrs. Santa's sister" now out of the picture, the alcoholic, sex-obsessed, misanthropic Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) still hasn’t changed his ways much. He’s living in Arizona and having trouble keeping a job without hitting the bottle. Right before putting his head in the oven and even attempting to hang himself, Willie agrees to a truce and one more score with released former partner-in-crime Marcus (Tony Cox). This time, they are going to Chicago to steal from a charity organization, owned by married couple Diane (Christina Hendricks) and Regent Hastings (Ryan Hansen). Willie and Marcus will have to pretend to be volunteers and it’s Christmastime, so that means getting back into their Santa and Little Helper suits. There’s one more catch, though: Willie’s estranged mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates), is in on the heist; she’s as foul-mouthed and as much of a safe-cracking criminal as her son. To add even more traffic, good-hearted dimwit Thurman Murman (Brett Kelly), now a 21-year-old sandwich artist and still a virgin, shows up in the Windy City to be with Willie, his only family.

A sequel that nobody asked for and has no reason for being, “Bad Santa 2” is more of the same but very much less. As directed by Mark Waters (who has seen brighter days with 1997’s “The House of Yes,” the 2003 “Freaky Friday” remake and 2004’s “Mean Girls”) and scripted by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross (2014’s “If I Stay”), the finished product proves that rehashing the same brand of shock humor will not make lightning strike twice. Everything feels regifted and perfunctory. There was clearly no more story to tell, and whose bright idea was it to separate Willie and Thurman for such a large chunk of the film? Strangely enough, the characters haven’t evolved or learned anything at all, and that’s fine, but they are much less amusing and root-worthy, just mean and unpleasant to hang out with. Some of the filthy insults by Willie and Sunny provide zing, but spouting off the F-word a half-dozen different ways just isn't the same as constructing a joke. Most of the gags are flat and threadbare, leaving room after every intended punchline for a laugh track that never comes. 

Watching Billy Bob Thornton reprise his role as miserable boozehound Willie Soke, it is a challenge to decide whether he’s so in tune to his character or just bored and not having any of it. Thirteen years ago, Willie was still an asshole who just looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks and reeked of Jack Daniels, cigarettes and his own urine, but he was an interesting and unapologetic asshole, both pathetic and with glimmers of humanity. Thornton is just going through the motions here, and ditto for Tony Cox. The only major difference here is that Willie and Marcus fight over a naughty, plus-sized security guard (Jenny Zigrino). No longer nine years old with a runny nose, Brett Kelly’s pudgy, unstoppably inquisitive Thurman Murman is just as endearingly sweet but even more clueless and maybe residing somewhere on the spectrum. Save for one nice moment where Thurman gets the opportunity to sing at the charity’s Christmas pageant, there is something depressing this time around about a character being older and even dimmer (he still wants Willie to pop his cherry, even though Willie explains that he can't directly help him with that).

Without the involvement of director Terry Zwigoff and screenwriters John Requa & Glenn Ficarra, it would have been wise to leave “Bad Santa” as a one-off. And yet, here we are with a sloppy, faded knockoff that tragically has little to recommend it. Not even the end credits' series of "tea-bagging" photos can turn a frown upside down. As if it needs to be said, this is not anyone's proudest work. Kathy Bates is game to play crass as Willie’s tattooed, invective mother, who lives to give her mistake of a son a verbal bruising, but even she can’t elevate the lame material; she gets to talk about anal sex and handle a vibrator, so the actress can finally cross those off her bucket list. With Lauren Graham long gone as the bartender who saw some good in Willie and liked screwing him in his Santa suit, Christina Hendricks is a luminous, impressively buxom presence but so ill-used in a thankless love-interest role. After it is revealed that she is a recovering alcoholic herself and extremely sex-starved, Diane becomes nothing more than a self-loathing body for Willie to bump and grind with next to an alleyway dumpster. A hopeless shadow of its former self where everyone should know better, “Bad Santa 2” won’t be making anyone’s yearly Christmas movie rotation, but perhaps it will be a contender on another list at the end of the year.

Grade: D +

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