The ghost of a (funnier) Christmas past, Billy Bob Thornton’s festive antihero returns to spit in everyone’s egg nog
In a weird way, the original Bad Santa was pretty ahead of its time.Nowadays, comedies overflowing with political incorrectness, expletive-laden rude jokes and a ton of pain-based slapstick are our mainstream cinema staples (lucky us). Bad Santa had Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie wheeling, dealing and stealing while dressed as good ol’ Mr Claus, with a good dose of alcohol, sex and swearing thrown in. You know, all the Christmas classics. The problem with this sequel, thirteen years after the original, is that we’re just not as impressed by self-proclaimed outrageousness as we used to be.The bare bones of what made the first film enjoyable are present in this year’s offering, and indeed not much appears to have happened to the titular Bad Santa since the end of the last film. Bad Santa 2 finds Willie half-heartedly suicidal, still drinking, still swearing, still awful. He’s just barely existing in Phoenix when he’s enlisted into another grand heist by his old partner Marcus (Tony Cox). This time, to get into the festive spirit they’ll be robbing a charity, and Willie’s horrifying mother (Kathy Bates) is along for the ride.
A lot of what formed Bad Santa is present: reprehensible criminals using Christmas as a ruse, cruel insults by the sleigh-load, and even though Lauren Graham’s Sue is absent there’s romantic (if that’s the right word) interest provided in spades by Christina Hendricks. But it’s not as shocking, and nowhere near as funny. The heist plot is introduced at the beginning and basically peters out as the film approaches the middle – cruel pranks, insults and general disgustingness replace any major plot points.
Thornton and Bates deliver their lines well, and do have some genuinely funny scenes, but it’s impossible to get away from the fact that this sequel is unnecessary, unwanted, and about ten years too late. The director and writers from the first film have abandoned ship too, and there are times when it feels like Bad Santa 2 is just one long series of horrendous insults after another, with barely any connection in between. Director Mark Waters – best known for early noughties classics Freaky Friday and Mean Girls – hasn’t managed to wrangle all the ‘bad’ into any meaningful structure. It’s being rude for rude’s sake.
The problem with this sequel is that we’re no longer impressed by self-proclaimed outrageousness
If you’re a semi-functioning member of society, there’s no way to enjoy the film without feeling like garbage. Fundamentally, a lot of the jokes are in bad taste and just plain cruel – Brett Kelly’s loveable Thurman Merman is back, and basically exists as the punchline. Most of Willie’s cracks are at Thurman, and laughing along at a middle-aged man bullying a confused, disadvantaged teenager was uncomfortable back in 2003 – now it’s just horrendous.
In case you haven’t heard, 2016 has been a crappy year all round, and this denigration of Christmas just feels like it’s coming at the wrong time. In a year where the worst has actually happened, it’s really hard to even pretend to be amused by a guy pretending to be something he’s not, rampaging around and bullying and insulting everything that moves. We don’t need fictionalised antiheroes like that anymore – they’re real. Merry Christmas, guys!
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