Bad Santa 2 is another late comedy sequel that fails to catch lightning in a bottle again with a poor script and weak characters.
Thirteen years after his exploits as a department store Santa in Arizona, Willie Soke's (Billy Bob Thornton) life continues to be a miserable hell. Due to his alcoholism and inability to keep his priorities in line, Willie's blossoming romance with Sue (Lauren Graham in Bad Santa) is no more, though Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) continues to follow Willie around as he progresses into adulthood, oblivious as ever. Sick of his pathetic existence, Willie is contemplating suicide when he is contacted by his former associate Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) with a new job offer.
The two look past their differences and agree to work together on a scheme to rob a Chicago charity of $2 million on Christmas Eve, once again playing their old roles of Santa and his elf. Arriving in the Windy City, Willie is reluctant to take part in the heist when he discovers his mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) is Marcus' accomplice, though he is desperate for the money and goes along with the plan. Meanwhile, Willie becomes attracted to charity head Diane Hastings (Christina Hendricks), while Thurman journeys to Chicago alone so he can spend Christmas with his "family."
Bad Santa 2 is the sequel to Bad Santa, the 2003 dark comedy that won praise for being a fresh and amusing subversion of the typical holiday movie tropes. The film was in development for a number of years before reaching theaters, and it aims to recapture the magic of the original while being a fun continuation of the characters. However, like many delayed comedy sequels, it comes up short. Bad Santa 2 is another late comedy sequel that fails to catch lightning in a bottle again with a poor script and weak characters.
Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross' screenplay is perhaps the movie's greatest weakness. They attempt to balance several storylines throughout the brief 90 minute runtime, but a few of the subplots end up being filler and inconsequential to the real narrative at hand. The most obvious victim in this regard is Regent Hastings (Ryan Hansen) investigating Willie because Soke is spending time with his wife, Diane. It's a thinly-veiled attempt to give Bad Santa 2 an element similar to Bernie Mac in the first one, only it goes nowhere and at times it feels like the filmmakers forgot about it. Jeff Skowron gets some humorous lines as Dorfman, the security guard trying to uncover Willie's past, but that's not enough to make it a worthwhile addition to the film.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for Thurman Merman. Kelly is once again a standout in the part, but his character's inclusion feels more like it came out of nostalgia for the original instead of being a natural fit for this particular story. Whereas Thurman was the heart of Bad Santa, he isn't given all that much to do in the sequel other than doing a "grown-up" riff of his shtick from the original. Kelly does have some sweet moments with Thornton, particularly towards the end, though some viewers may feel that director Mark Waters could have cut Thurman completely and nothing would have been lost. The idea of a Bad Santa 2 without the lovable Kid might be blasphemous, but the character feels forced into the proceedings and barely factors into the plot, which will be disappointing for fans that enjoyed Thurman in the first film.
Bad Santa 2's raunchy humor is a troubling mixed bag. On the positive side, Thornton maintains excellent chemistry with Cox, as Willie and Marcus trade R-rated insults with glorious abandon. Many of these are worth a chuckle, and the film shines brightest when the duo's interplay is front and center. There's nothing new being presented, but it's still fun to watch. However, there are a handful of jokes that aren't the best fit for a 2016 audience's tastes and sensibilities. Many of these come courtesy of Sunny, whose character is written in such a stereotypical and clichéd manner that it's shock for the sake of having shock value comedy. Bates is extremely committed in the role, but she can't truly elevate what's on the page. Sunny is a mean-spirited caricature, and any attempts to flesh out her relationship with Willie are flat and insincere.
Of the newcomers, Bates has the most screen time, and many of the others are severely shortchanged. The female characters are supremely thin sketches that amount to little more than attractive eye candy for Willie and Marcus. Hendricks, Jenny Zigrino, and Cristina Rosata don't have a whole lot to do other than provide Bad Santa 2 with the expected adult moments that harken back to the original. Thornton is the clear star of the show, slipping back into the role he was born to play with ease. The actor's portrayal of the lead is essentially more of the same (an overarching problem with the film as a whole), but Scrooges will still get a kick out of seeing him as an atypical "hero" looking to spread Christmas cheer. Thornton is unsurprisingly the movie's strongest asset and makes it click.
In the end, Bad Santa 2 is about what viewers would expect from a Bad Santa sequel arriving so many years after its predecessor. There isn't enough time to give its various subplots room to breathe and the core story feels more like holiday leftovers than a new and exciting present under the tree. Fans of the original may find some enjoyment in it thanks to seeing their favorite characters again, but the uninitiated can wait to catch this one on home media. In the mold of Zoolander 2, this is a comedy followup that wasn't worth the extended wait.
Bad Santa 2 is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 92 minutes and is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity.