Nov 25, 2016

Review: "Bad Santa 2" Lives Up to Bad Comedy Sequel Standards

In 2003, director Terry Zwigoff introduced the world to Willie Sokes (Billy Bob Thornton): a man who made his cash while robbing stores while disguised as a mall Santa. He was bitter and reckless in ways that made for one of the most delirious comedies of the decade. It was a miracle that it worked at all. So, how do you make a sequel to a film based around holiday bitterness and hostility? You probably shouldn't. Director Mark Waters proves in a jam-packed 90 minutes of  discomfort that bitterness doesn't make good comedy. All it makes is a terribly abrasive film that undoes the good will that Willie had gotten 13 years before, soiled pants and all.
There isn't a ton that's immediately clear when it comes to differentiating the sequel's downfalls from the original's successes. In fact, writer Shauna Cross does her best to fill the film with witty banter and so much racy humor that South Park looks like a Christian series by comparison. The humor is meant to be shocking with the vulgarities being thrown in for poetic flow. The issue becomes that those f-words begin to feel more mandated than necessary, and the comments on Marcus' (Tony Cox) small size begin to feel tired. Is it because society has become more politically correct in this time? Possibly. It may even be that the hostile presidential election has exhausted some appreciation for trashy behaviors that Willie and his mother (Kathy Bates) get into. Of course, the bigger issue is simple: it's not funny.
The opening minutes are a promising return to form for Bad Santa's perverse worldview. There's Willie still disgruntled about his miserable life. Thurman (Brett Kelly) is still delightfully oblivious even as Willie's botched hanging keeps him comically swaying from a motel ceiling. This is a world where its central cast are miserable, mostly robbing a charity (lead by Christina Hendricks) for the millions that they could retire on. The issue about this misanthropic bunch is that nobody likes each other. Willie tries to pass the time while doing his old sexual and deviant behaviors, not caring how much details he spills to his mother; who had him when she was a teenager and is introduced through a violent slap across the face.
It seems right that a Bad Santa sequel is vulgar. It's written into its DNA. However, there's a difference between Willie 2003 and Willie 2016. There's something more depressing about watching an even older man sluggishly go through life while carelessly insulting everyone and beating up a Santa who is a bit too jolly. Willie 2016 seems hostile and even more unwilling to experience any change. As the film continues, it fails to really establish any emotional core, instead relying on the uncomfortable humor that reveals how limited it really is. By the hour mark, there's been so many jokes about vaginal slang and so little character-based that it almost feels like there's no movie there.
This is a shame, since Cross does manage to write a pretty solid finale in which the Sokes family dynamic becomes more screwed up. It has the pitch black brilliance that makes everything before it feel a tad more disappointing. Without anything to really grasp onto, especially with Willie feeling less like a character and more like the Hard-R version of Inside Out's Anger. He snaps over irrational moments and nothing about his emotional journey feels earned. There's no heart or willingness for the crassness to feel indicative of character. It's just there to shock audiences. This could be fine, but it's a large step down from where Zwigoff left the character previously - and even that was brutally wounded on a child's porch.
Bad Santa 2 doesn't break any code. It is a bad comedy sequel. This is in part because it does the same thing over, but also does it without the focus or ingenuity necessary to pull it off. All it has is secondhand humor that gets repetitive and falls off of the characters without second thought. For a sequel that spent so long in gestation, one could only have hoped that things would be a little stronger and that it would be halfway decent. Instead, it's just another film where a willing cast is underserved by the script. There's nothing exciting here, and it's arguably more uncomfortable and worse than one could've hoped. It's not the worst sequel of all time, but it's still rather pointless.

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