Based on the trailers, I didn’t think BAD SANTA 2 was going to be much of a sequel. Sure, the original is a minor classic, thanks in large part to the perfect marriage of a script by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (with help from The Coen Bros), stylish direction by Terry Zwigoff, and Billy Bob Thornton’s genius casting in the lead. It wasn’t a picnic, as the movie infamously went through re-shoots and delays, but it was a gem. Given the history, it’s no surprise it took so long for a sequel to happen.
With Mark Waters (MEAN GIRLS, VAMPIRE ACADEMY) stepping-in for Zwigoff, and writers Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross (WHIP IT, IF I STAY, WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING) taking over on creative, and the Weinsteins having sold off the rights, you could reasonably expect this to be a simple cash grab that’s at least a decade too late. Yet, for the first act, BAD SANTA 2 kinda works. It’s fun catching up with the terminally drunk Willie and he ruins menial job after menial job. He’s also saddled with the now grown Thurman (Brett Kelly), whose hero-worship of Willie hasn’t faded, and who Willie, in his own twisted way, kinda cares about. That being said, his way of showing him affection is hiring a prostitute played by Octavia Spenser to “pop his cherry.”
Up to this point, I was pleasantly surprised. BAD SANTA 2 was doing its job. Yet, as soon as the actual plot starts, which reunited Willie with Marcus, fresh out of jail, and sends them to Chicago (a very recognizable Montreal standing-in for it) to steal money from a charity run by Christina Hendricks and her sketchy husband (Ryan Hansen of “Veronica Mars” and “Party Down”), the movie grinds to a halt. Bates, as Willie’s tattooed, gangster mom, is going-all in, but her dialogue doesn’t work and she has no chemistry with Thornton. Meanwhile, all of Cox’s shtick from the first film is recycled. Even the “romance” between Hendricks and Thornton falls apart, never having the dirty appeal of what he had with Lauren Graham in the first film, even though they recycle the “f**k me Santa” joke.
The reason why it all goes so awry is obvious – Thornton and Kelly are split-up. Indeed, when Thurman makes his way to Chicago in the last act, the movie starts to get funny again. It’s crazy Waters and the writers weren’t able to see how Kelly and Thornton’s chemistry is key. It’s the only thing the movie has going for it, and it engenders some real good will in a cheap, knock-off sequel that has the look of a VOD film or a Netflix Original Movie.
If you loved BAD SANTA, you’ll probably want to see this out of curiosity, but it’s a real-deal example of a franchise that should have been allowed to die a quick death, as this is nothing but a pale imitation. Yet, parts of it, specifically whenever Brett Kelly is on-screen, work. If this makes its way to streaming, it might be worth a quick watch, but save your money theatrically. There are a lot of better movies out there that deserve your buck, even if you crave a good laugh.