by Michael B. Hock
Ever wonder what happened to Willie Soke, the thief turned somewhat good guy at the end of Bad Santa? No? Would you like to at least pretend to know? Well, while you’re pretending, I have some pretend good news, there’s a sequel, and it answers all of your lingering questions left over from the original Bad Santa, except for possibly the one of “Why did they make a sequel to Bad Santa?”
The only thing that saves Bad Santa 2 the title of “most unnecessary sequel of 2016” is the fact that we got a third Bridget Jones’s Diary movie, which also begged the question… why, but with less in your face-ness, because she could keep writing in that one long after she’s settled down or nope it was about a baby and the hijinks that ensued there. Never mind.
Where to begin? Bad Santa 2 picks up however long it’s been since the last Bad Santa, and Willie (Billy Bob Thorton, bringing more life into this movie than it deserves) is back up to his old tricks, because no one changes and life is terrible. After a failed suicide attempt, he re-teams up with Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) the guy who betrayed him in the first movie because if they’re going to rehash everything, why not rehash that, too? Do you think he’s going to betray Willie again? Do you? There’s also Willie’s mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates) who’s just like her son. She also might betray him, too.
The job this time is to rob a charity, being run by Diane (Christina Hendricks) who primarily exists so Willie can ogle something and stick around long after the plot calls for him to go anywhere else and do anything else. The kid from the first one is back, too (Thurman Merman) because if this movie has one thing going for it, it’s that it’s going to rehash every plot.
I just went through four paragraphs about how terrible this movie is, and I’m going to stand by it, but let me start with the good so you don’t think I’ve completely lost my Bad Santa spirit: it is nice to see Billy Bob Thornton back in the role of Willie Soke. If i missed anything it’s his hard drinking, extremely terrible Santa act, and the fact that very few people seem to notice more and more that he doesn’t have the beard or the jolly demeanor. This is a running gag that I feel isn’t appreciated that much in the first movie, but really seems to take off here when he doesn’t spend much time in the suit before it has the appearance of… well there is no appropriate metaphor. Just a really bad looking Santa suit.
The one thing that Thornton does very well is acknowledge in a few moments, that this sequel is unnecessary. He learned his lessons about love and friendship (mostly) in the first one and so he’s not full on hating life and hating everyone mode here. He allows little moments of the human that Willie Soke became in the first movie to shine through, keeping the first movie from being a total loss. I know there is some mileage to be taken out of the whole “no hugs, no lessons” that all of the “bad”-branded movies tend to push, but what Bad Santa really did well was take this rough guy, give him a little bit of a heart, and but pull back when the moment called for it, and when it did seem too far. Sort of like a realistic Grinch. Just hearing the songs would melt his heart a little bit, but it wouldn’t change everything for all time, forever.
Sadly, once we’re done with Billy Bob, the movie really tends to fall flat.
It’s a lame rehash of the first movie, with another heist, another woman who’s inexplicably drawn to the increasingly gross Willie, Thurman idolizing this loser (having made it all the way to Chicago somehow.) I get that a lot of sequels find ways to rehash the original, but this rehash even manages to copy the exact same twists without actually adding anything new or exciting to them. Even as Skidmore pulls his gun on Willie, the same exasperated look crosses his face, and the movie deflates even more, somehow, than any of the retreading moments before it.
The thing was, even in the first few moments the movie it justified its existence with a clever moment that talked about how nothing ended, and life always manages to keep going, no matter how much it sucks. This was a cathartic moment, one that did sort of speak to the idea that Willie might not change, even after the love and happiness that ended the first movie, and then needed another one. But everything that comes after that is not enough to justify it.
Because this is a Christmas movie, there may be a joke here about coal in our stockings or something like that. I can’t take that route. I’d just say rather than seeing this one, take that time and just go watch the original. Much better.