Is the first “Bad Santa” film an intelligent, wry, commentary on the commercialization of the holiday season? Is it an insightful look at knowing the difference between the things we want and the things we need? Is it a reminder that the most important family is not the one we are given but the one we make for ourselves?
If you believe that the answers to the above questions are “yes,” than probably “Bad Santa 2” isn’t the movie you should be going to this holiday weekend. If, on the other hand, you subscribe to the theory that the original film is just a bunch of truly off-color jokes and a whole lot of four letter words crammed into 90+ minutes, then you really might enjoy the return of Tony Cox and Billy Bob Thornton in this sequel directed by Mark Waters.
Lauren Graham is out as the love interest, replaced by Christina Hendricks; Thurman’s Grandma is out, replaced by Willie’s mom (Kathy Bates); Bernie Mac’s security guard is now Jeff Skowron’s; Lois is gone, but Marcus has his eyes set on someone new, Gina (Jenny Zigrino); John Ritter isn’t here, but Ryan Hansen is; and yes, Brett Kelly is back as Thurman Merman (aka The Kid). It isn’t that the new characters are duplicates for those who haven’t returned, but they tend to fill the same sort of roles with the notable exception that Willie’s mom, Sunny, is in on the crime more Lois-style than sitting around make sandwiches like Grandma.
There is a tendency with such a sequel for folks to remember how funny the original is, and instantly compare the sequel to it. Or, more accurately—and this is vastly more important—for people to compare the sequel to what they remember from the original; the rose-colored glasses version of the original. Having rewatched the original in preparation for the sequel, I can honestly say that I laughed just as much with “Bad Santa 2” as I did with the first film.
The plot is pretty simple – Willie’s life still stinks, and when Marcus gets out of jail (early release), he contacts Willie about a job robbing a charity (which in turn is robbing from others) in Chicago. Willie signs on without any of the specifics, just dollar signs in his eyes, and soon learns that his mom is the one organizing the heist. Hilarity ensues.
The original “Bad Santa” was really about these guys robbing from people/companies who didn’t deserve it (if anyone can be said to deserve such a fate). As funny as them robbing a charity this time may be, it really does feel as though “Bad Santa 2” is pulling its punches by having the head of the charity, Regent Hastings (Hansen) lining his own pockets. As Willie is interested in Regent’s wife, Diane (Hendricks) and pursues her, this punch-pulling has a second effect as well – we can root for Willie to end up with Diane because we know she’s married to a bad person.
If there is a difference between “Bad Santa 2” and “Bad Santa” it is that we no longer have to wonder whether Willie is really a good guy deep down inside and whether we’re supposed to root for him. He is a good guy deep down and we are supposed to root for him. Is that a purposeful change on the part of the filmmakers to turn him into something more accessible or is it a subtle shift in his persona over the more than 10 years since we last saw him?
I am not sure that’s a question which can be answered definitively, but without a doubt the viewer’s reception of the movie hinges upon it. “Bad Santa” revels in its level of bile and vileness. The horrible things Willie says to Thurman are that much worse because he’s talking to a kid. Willie yelling at Thurman here in the sequel still packs a punch, but a slightly different sort of one as, no matter how naïve Kelly may play him, Thurman is now an adult.
Not having kept a running tally of the f-bombs in either movie, I am not sure which one contains more, but “Bad Santa 2” certainly isn’t shy to have Willie, Marcus, Sunny, Diane, and anyone else (save Thurman) use four letter words on a very regular basis. There is no softening of any stance there.
I choose to see any change in Willie as his having grown older, and consequently (with the exception of the charity being run by a thief) am not troubled by any softening of his character. Plus, he still does awful things without a care on a fairly regular basis.
In the end, I suspect that “Bad Santa 2” is fighting an uphill battle. If one can go into it with an open mind and receptive to the foul humor, it’s fun. If the first film is so monolithic in one’s world that nothing can touch it, “Bad Santa 2” may not be able to match it.
Me? I laughed regularly, and that’s what I wanted.
photo credit: Broad Green Pictures / Miramax