'Bad Santa 2' Starring Billy Bob Thornton Delivers On Its Promise Of Pure, Putrid Nastiness [Review]

In most instances, comedy sequels stink. Thus, with such a low bar to clear, “Bad Santa 2” is a triumph, at least on the order of an “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” or “22 Jump Street” — which is to say, it’s an inferior follow-up that succeeds in not sullying the memory of its 2003 predecessor, or making one regret having ever laughed at its characters’ filthy hijinks in the first place. Credit for that achievement goes largely to Billy Bob Thornton, who thirteen years after initially donning a disheveled Santa suit as thief Willie T. Stokes, slips comfortably back into the role, looking just as grim, miserable and depraved as before. With a scruffy beard and a head of clumsily cropped short white hair, his Willie remains a snarling drunken degenerate with little on his mind other than the next drink and the next female derriere he can defile, and no matter the situation, his profanely disgusted (and disgusting) insults energize Mark Waters’ film.

As before, Thornton’s verbal abuse is often directed at Marcus (Tony Cox), his little person former-partner who stabbed him in the back at the end of the first “Bad Santa.” Marcus reappears to entice Willie to join him in Chicago for the holidays, where he plans to steal $2 million from a local charity whose president, Regent (Ryan Hansen), has been cooking the books to his own benefit. Willie reluctantly agrees, which entails abandoning portly, curly-haired Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who still clings to Willie like a loyal if dim-witted dog, and who hasn’t grown up over the past decade so much as he’s simply grown bigger. No sooner has Willie abandoned his surrogate son, however, as he’s reunited with his birth mother Sunny (Kathy Bates), a raunchy, tattooed faux-Mrs. Santa who’s in league with Marcus on the heist, and whom Willie hates with a fiery passion, thanks to a childhood of mistreatment and neglect.

"Bad Santa 2"

The trio’s plan involves Marcus crawling through a trash chute and seducing a plus-sized security guard (Jenny Zigrino), while Willie tries to bed Regent’s wife Diane (Christina Hendricks), who wants to help him with his alcoholism but, as befitting this sordid series, is soon screwing him in an alleyway next to a dumpster, and later up against a Christmas tree near children (as well as being informed, by Willie, that she has an enormous rack). As with the rest of the material’s peripheral characters, Hendricks’ Diane barely makes an impression. Then again, there’s also really nothing to the plot of “Bad Santa 2,” which is designed only to create absurd scenarios for its expletive-spewing characters, including Willie fighting with another curbside Santa, and letting kids sit on his lap and tell them their Christmas wishes while he guzzles booze and flirts with waitresses. The result is a film that seems almost painfully aware of its own pointlessness, as during Willie’s opening narration, during which he claims that endings (much less happy ones) don’t exist; instead, some new atrocity is always following the last one.

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That’s certainly true in “Bad Santa 2.” The screenplay (by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross) compensates for its narrative purposelessness by delivering a constant stream of inventive R-rated obscenity. Rarely has a film found such joy in rampant political incorrectness and indecency, especially when it comes to the myriad barbs regarding Cox’s height. While the effect of such boundary-pushing can at times be wearying, Waters’ comedy — like its forerunner — comes impressively close to elevating cursing to an art form, especially when wielded by Thornton and Cox, who spit and sneer vulgar invectives at each other like gutter-trash virtuosos.

bad-santa-2While Waters’ direction is competent, his straightforward stewardship lacks the slightly off-kilter strangeness (and lyricism) that Terry Zwigoff brought to the original “Bad Santa.” The same goes for its action proper, which doubles down on the crudeness to reasonable effect, and yet seldom surprises with any of its gags — and, to its detriment, ultimately reveals itself to have a considerably more schmaltzy heart. Nonetheless, if one ignores all the blather about “family” that vainly strives to imbue this corrosive sequel with some holiday-theme heft, there’s quite a bit of pure, putrid nastiness to enjoy throughout this second go-round, which — per Thornton’s Willie, a debauched Yuletide pervert for the ages — serves as a Christmas fable that ably puts the “ejaculate” back in “ejaculate conception.” [B-]