The original “Bad Santa” is a cult classic in the black comedy genre, shamelessly and artfully going too far. The one word that separates it from its sequel is “artfully.” It might seem like a comedy doesn’t have to be artful, but “Bad Santa 2” is so egregiously unfunny and lazily thrown together that it begs the question: How did this get made?
The film picks up with Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) about a decade after the events of the first film. Willie is living a thoroughly depressing life, bouncing around from meaningless job to meaningless job. During one of Willie’s (half-assed) attempts to kill himself, Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) joyfully walks in with money and a message from Willie’s old partner in crime, Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox). Cox recruits Willie for one last heist, which, unbeknownst to Willie at first, includes his hated mother Sunny (Kathy Bates). Considering the heated mother-son relationship and the fact that Cox tried to kill Willie in their last heist, this mission seems doomed to fail.
The heist doesn’t even really matter to the writers or director — they offer a lazy setup that relinquishes any sense of stakes, they meander away from the heist storyline for thoroughly uninteresting subplots and they create a payoff that doesn’t feel fulfilling in any sense. It is completely abysmal storytelling.
During those tangents, the film crosses over into the offensive numerous times. The handling of female characters is particularly disgraceful. They are literally used as plot pieces for sex and only advance the male characters’ wishes. Some of the dialogue describing women is shocking for a Hollywood studio film. There’s an artfulness that the first film utilized to take what would otherwise be offensive and make it funny. This film even does so at rare occasions. But there is no art to what is simply an extremely problematic way of portraying women in film.
It almost seems as though this movie was conceived by the writers coming up with a few punchlines and then crafting a story around them. And what is sadly hysterical is that the film offers no true or earned laughs. By the sheer extreme crudeness of all too many of these scenes, audiences can find laughs. But they will simultaneously recognize the poor taste, the lazy attempt and the lack of value any of these jokes have.
The actors are all OK. There aren’t any particularly terrible performances, but the characters — in terms of writing and acting — are either so offensive and ridiculous or completely lacking of depth that it doesn’t even matter if anyone gave a great performance. The characters would all feel like embarrassing caricatures anyway. There are tiny, truly tiny, moments where one may find a sliver of interesting depth in Willie’s relationship with Thurman and how the two have come together as family. Outside of that, there’s nothing to hang on to.
When it comes to the child actors, it’s hard not to feel a discomfort in the dialogue they hear and the implications they see. These children who have one line of dialogue during scenes that require children are surrounded by vulgarity and placed into contextual settings — a young girl sitting on Willie’s lap says it feels “wet” when the previous child peed on Willie — that are ethically wrong as all hell considering that these children likely didn’t have any idea what was happening.
“Bad Santa 2” is, on all levels, what is problematic about Hollywood. It degrades its woman characters. It’s an unnecessary sequel to an old comedy classic — in line with the recent “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Zoolander 2.” Its storytelling reeks of laziness.
As we look for some kind of light in the approaching holiday season, this film is a terrible, terrible start. Hopefully Christmas won’t be as bad.