Review: ‘Bad Santa 2’ too much naughty, not enough nice
When staring down the barrel of a months-long assault of nonstop consumerist cheer, sometimes being naughty is a lot more tempting than being nice. That’s why 2003’s “Bad Santa” was the shot of whiskey that the Christmas movie needed — Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken, foul-mouthed mall Santa Willie spoke to the Grinch that lives inside us all. He’s such a memorable character that he’s been revived for another go, albeit 13 years later.
“Bad Santa 2” brings most of the gang back, but not the filmmakers — the sequel is directed by Mark Waters and penned by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross. That change of guard behind the scenes could be the problem with the second iteration, which doubles down on the naughty, without enough nice to balance it out. The charm of “Bad Santa” was the cognitive dissonance in throwing together the unabashedly repugnant character of Willie, with the sweet, innocent kids who sat on his lap, most notably the one who wouldn’t leave him alone, The Kid (Brett Kelly).
The Kid is the much-needed dose of sugar in the Bad Santa punch. Their relationship demonstrates that Willie does have a heart, which we need to believe in in order to go along with his outrageous and wildly offensive antics. Their dynamic together makes for the funnier moments, too. Kelly valiantly reprises his role as a 21-year-old Kid (given name: Thurman), who is exactly the same, but larger. He exhibits the same innocence and joy of another classic holiday movie character — Buddy the Elf, from “Elf.” They’re both naifs; adults who retain their childlike wonder for the holiday season.
But instead of playing these two foils off each other, the filmmakers add another Bad Santa to the mix in the sequel. More of a Mrs. Claus type, she’s Willie’s mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates). He did, indeed, get it from his mama. Styled as a butch biker, Sunny swills booze, jokes about giving birth to Willie as a teen in juvie, and has lured her son and his former elf nemesis, Marcus (Tony Cox), to Chicago to rip off a children’s charity.
They infiltrate the organization, run by Diane (Christina Hendricks) and Regent (Ryan Hansen), by posing as Salvation Army-style street Santa volunteers. For the sake of the heist, Willie is pressed to seduce Diane and a female security guard, who inexplicably find the rude and crude drunk absolutely irresistible.
“Bad Santa 2” relies entirely too much on the salty stuff, offering an opportunity for audiences to titter at the firehose of vile gutter humor that leaves no one unsullied, and delves into some truly dark places. Thornton is nothing if not committed to the role, while Bates seems to be lost on her way between “American Horror Story” sets. Just as the shtick is growing tiresome, Thurman arrives in Chicago in time to save the movie, but it’s a bit too little too late.
Thurman’s goodness brings out the best in Willie, and the best in “Bad Santa 2.” After wallowing around in the gross-out bad behavior of the Bad Santas, Thurman is the ray of sunshine. Kelly’s breakout performance makes Thurman a classic Christmas movie character — if only there were more of his goodness and less of the badness.
‘Bad Santa 2’
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity
Running time: 92 minutes