By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
As far as dark comedies go, 2003’s “Bad Santa” is arguably one of Hollywood’s best. Now, 13 years later, “Bad Santa 2” finally hits theaters and the question fans want to know is, was it worth the wait?
The film reunites “Bad Santa’s” three leading men—drunken conman Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton); his angry sidekick, Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox); and the lovable, naive Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly)—as Willie and Marcus begrudgingly team up once again to knock off a charity in Chicago on Christmas Eve. Understandably, Willie isn’t very trusting of Marcus since Marcus did try to kill him once, but Marcus (who was released early from prison due to overcrowding issues—let Willie’s wisecracks commence) swears his double-crossing nature is in the past and that their payday will be worth millions.
When Willie and Marcus get to Chicago, however, Willie discovers that the insider who tipped Marcus off about the holiday heist is his estranged mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates), who is working undercover at the Salvation Army-like charity to scout it out. Now, Willie is forced to work with not one, but two people he doesn’t trust—and is back to wearing that dreaded Santa suit to collect money for the charity he’s about to rob.
For a movie that begins with the lead character trying to commit suicide, “Bad Santa 2” is surprisingly much less dark than its predecessor. Not only is the comedy almost nonstop, but the now grown-up man-boy Thurman Merman adds a lot of heart to the film once he shows up in Chicago clad in his Hungry Hoagies T-shirt and khaki shorts to spend Christmas with Willie. Audiences will truly feel Willie’s internal struggle over whether to knock off the charity as planned with two people he hates or to throw millions of dollars away for the one person who really does care about him once Thurman informs him that he’s going to be singing at the charity’s annual Christmas Eve concert and invites him to the performance—which, of course, is when Willie is supposed to be breaking into the charity’s safe.
Bates adds a lot to the film as well as Willie’s tough-as-nails, tattooed mother Sunny, though Thornton and Cox still manage to get the bulk of the best lines in the film with their back-and-forth insults. Not surprisingly, the comedy team of Thornton, Cox and Bates coupled with the scene-stealing, wide-eyed performance by Kelly doesn’t really give anyone else a lot of screen time to shine, so poor Christina Hendricks is easily forgettable as Diane, the charity director with a heart of gold and a libido of steel who is drawn to Thornton’s sleazy character.
While the script by first-time feature film screenwriter Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross (“If I Stay,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) and directed by Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”) may be entertaining from start to finish, “Bad Santa 2” still doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. There’s no “wooden pickle” moment audiences will really take away from the film and laugh about a decade later, and there’s one characteristic of Bates’ character that doesn’t really go anywhere during the movie—although it’s referenced repeatedly throughout. Nevertheless, the film still manages to be one of Hollywood’s stronger sequels and is sure to please longtime “Bad Santa” fans. Granted at times “Bad Santa 2” seems like a more watered down version of “Bad Santa”—especially with Willie’s growing conscious throughout the film—but the vulgar holiday sequel is still a whole lot of fun.