Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) teams up with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is chubby and cheery Thurman Merman, a 250-pound ray of sunshine who brings out Willie's sliver of humanity. Mommy issues arise when the pair are joined by Willie's horror story of a mother, Sunny Soke, who raises the bar for the gang's ambitions, while somehow lowering the standards of criminal behaviour.
Early in Bad Santa 2, drunken reprobate and self-loathing misanthrope Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) tries to kill himself by putting his head in an oven. An electric oven. It’s a good joke, and one that sums up Willy perfectly: everything about his life is so pathetic he can’t even kill himself properly. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much just a rehash of a joke in the first Bad Santa, and what was shockingly bad taste the first time around now rapidly develops all the familiar numbing warmth of a cosy - if extremely foul-mouthed - Christmas carol.
After the disintegration of the happy family he ended up with at the end of the first movie – though the now-21 Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) still keeps innocently stopping by for largely sandwich-related chats – Willie has literally no reason to go on. But when Thurman brings over a package full of cash from his former partner-in-Christmas-crime Marcus (Tony Cox) with the offer of a big score in Chicago, Willie goes against his better judgement (which clearly hasn’t helped him so far) and says yes. The plan is to steal $2 million from a charity safe on Christmas Eve, but there’s a catch: their inside man is Willie’s equally caustic mother Sunny (Kathy Bates). Considering her nickname for him is “Shitstick”, it’s safe to say he doesn’t feel a lot of warmth towards her, but money is money – even if he once again has to dress up as Santa to get it.
Just about everything that made the first film work is back: hair-raisingly offensive insults, general bad behaviour, Willie somehow being a sex machine despite his drunken state – seriously, the only female character in this film he doesn’t have sex with is his mother – and just enough holiday sentiment to make the offensiveness really sting. Director Mark Waters (replacing the first film’s Terry Zwygoff) even figures out a way to have Willie in his Santa suit listening to children’s Christmas gift requests again, which is both a decent call-back to the original and a reminder that, as with most sequels, much of the point here is to give people more of what they liked the last time.
"While Bates as a tattoo’d, spikey-haired aging biker chick is both hilarious and easily able to hold her own against Thornton’s concentrated bile, the relationship never really develops any surprises."
The only really new element here is Willie’s relationship with his mother, and while Bates as a tattoo’d, spikey-haired aging biker chick is both hilarious and easily able to hold her own against Thornton’s concentrated bile, the relationship never really develops any surprises. The first film’s female love interest worked because her sweetness ran counter to Willie’s bile (this film’s equivalent, Christina Hendricks’ charity boss, is little more than a throwaway gag); having Willie deal with his nasty mother and his nasty partner just feels like doubling down on the same joke. And with the film barely interested in the heist narrative, having everyone constantly insult everyone else soon wears thin. At least Merman’s sweet, deeply weird presence provides some much-needed counterpoint to the otherwise relentless nastiness.
Where the first film tracked Willie’s downward spiral from regular foul-mouthed screw-up drunk to near-comatose boozehound barely redeemed by love and the Christmas spirit, this starts out with him at rock bottom and then just has him bounce along. There’s no sense that things are getting any better or worse for him; he’s just a horrible human being having another wacky adventure. It was that sense that Willie’s terrible behaviour was eating away at him, that being repulsive to everyone (while wearing a Santa suit) had actual consequences, that gave the original film enough weight to make its central joke more than just giving a much-loved holiday the finger. What every good Christmas movie needs is what this superficially entertaining sequel lacks: a soul.
Watch Bad Santa 2 trailer: