Producer: Geyer Kosinski and Andrew Gunn
Director: Mark Waters
Writer: Shauna Cross and Johnny Rosenthal
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, Jenny Zigrino, Jeff Skowron and Octavia Spencer
Studio: Broad Green Pictures
“Bad Santa 2” follows what is now a tradition of long-delayed sequels by being terrible, and does the others one better: it’s the worst. And while it may be tradition to serve fowl for Thanksgiving, this year audiences are getting something foul instead.
Not that Terry Zwigoff’s original 2003 “Bad Santa” was a comedic masterpiece, but at the time its venomous attitude and nasty language felt transgressive rather than simply gross. This time around, the stream of obscenity and coarseness just seems rote and tired.
As to story, there isn’t much. Willie Stoke (Billy Bob Thornton) is in Phoenix and in desperate straits (one might say “at his wit’s end,” if any wit were involved), and decides to end it all. Unfortunately, his attempts at suicide are interrupted by the arrival of his would-be “son,” the creepily deadpan Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who also delivers an invitation from Willie’s erstwhile comrade-in-theft Marcus (Tony Cox) to join him for a lucrative heist in Chicago. Stokes takes off, leaving the clueless Thurman behind.
Arriving in the Windy City, Willie finds that the job involves robbing a charity run by the obviously slimy Regent (Ryan Hansen) and his sincere wife Diane (Christina Hendricks). Unfortunately, the mastermind of the heist is Willie’s hated, foul-mouthed mother Sunny (Kathy Bates). Initially reluctant, Stokes finally agrees to participate. They’ll all case the joint as volunteers—Willie of course in a Santa suit and Marcus as an elf—before robbing the safe during a children’s Christmas concert. Naturally things go awry, especially after Thurman unexpectedly shows up.
Thornton gets to do some of the old shtick in his Santa guise, both when raising money on the street and grimacing as kids sit on his lap and ask for presents. But far too much of the movie consists of him, Cox and Bates just sitting around flinging vulgar insults at one another, which comes down to little more than a game of “Can you top this?” The result is rarely worth even a chuckle. The sexual stuff is even worse, especially the plot thread about Diane and Willie hooking up in the crudest possible fashion, though another involving Jenny Zigrino as a lustful security guard comes close. Of course Thurman is always around for another round of obtuseness, though, as in the first picture, he’s also the occasion for the script to develop a soft-hearted streak in the last act (he even sings a solo at that concert), though it’s buried in the continuing avalanche of bad taste. The topper is a photo montage involving Willie and Marcus that’s the absolute pits.
While Bates and Cox tear into their lines with manic gusto, Thornton is throughout so phlegmatic that he simply seems disengaged—which is probably the right attitude to take with material this awful. Kelly is again unsettlingly convincing as dim-bulb Thurman, and one expects that Hendricks will try hard to erase this from her resume. Jeff Skowron has been enlisted to play a role similar to the one the late John Ritter took in the first picture—here a security man trying to dig up dirt on the larcenous trio—and tries unsuccessfully to maintain his dignity. Worst of all, Octavia Spencer shows up as a hooker Willie hires to service the still-virginal Thurman. One can only speculate about what sort of bet she lost to embarrass herself to this extent.
There are tons of establishing shots of Chicago streets and buildings to convince us that the movie was shot where it is set, along with scads of posters on buildings and lampposts advertising Windy City events. It’s always nice to see the Hancock Building, the Chicago Theatre and other landmarks, but the movie was actually filmed in Montreal. But that’s not the only imposture here: the movie pretends to be a comedy. The only question is whether it’s more rancid or putrid. Decisions, decisions.