|'Where Bad Santa emerged as an unexpected pleasure for many, Bad Santa 2 is firmly one of the guilty variety from the very start'.|
Bad Santa 2 is essentially the film everyone expected Bad Santa to be. The original had the influence of the Coen Brothers at its core, offering a surprising tale of redemption beneath the dark humour and expletive-laden dialogue; the sequel, however, more often takes influence from another pair of fraternal filmmakers - the Farrellys - parading its sex jokes and brazenly un-PC humour without troubling itself too much with attempts at replicating the hidden charms of the original. Where Bad Santa emerged as an unexpected pleasure for many, Bad Santa 2 is firmly one of the guilty variety from the very start.
Simply put, your opinion of Mark Waters' belated sequel will rest solely on how much it makes you laugh. If you weren't a fan of Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) in 2003, then you'll almost certainly despise him thirteen years later. Those who enjoyed the original because of its lewd and unabashed comedy may discover less to love here, but will nonetheless find themselves letting out enough genuine guffaws at Willie's far from triumphant return to enjoy what Bad Santa 2 has to offer.
Plot is never Waters' primary concern, coming up with enough of a reason for Willie and his former partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox) to reunite, embark on a new festive heist and of course don the Santa and elf get-ups respectively once again. The addition of Willie's estranged mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) initially feels unnecessary; but the misanthropic chemistry between Thornton and Bates makes it work, allowing Sunny to fit comfortably into the exaggerated and amoral Bad Santa universe.
The choice to bring back the now 21-year-old Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) from the first film initially works well, although the character struggles to find his place for much of the middle section and is largely sidelined as a result. Waters' late attempt to recreate the emotional elements of the original's climax is decidedly rushed, but thanks to the relationship developed over two films between Willie and Thurman it works far better than it has any right to.
What makes Bad Santa 2 work more than anything else is Thornton's return to the title role. Willie Soke is never likely to be the actor's most critically admired role, but it deserves to go down as one of his most entertaining. Waters' film is always at its best when putting Willie front and centre: a public run-in with an upbeat and well-meaning fellow St. Nick is a particular highlight, as is a shamelessly contrived sequence of Willie interacting with a string of youngsters telling him what they want for Christmas. In fact, had Waters opted to focus solely on inventing opportunities to showcase Thornton at his deplorable hilarious best, he might have been able to break away a little more from the lingering sense of his film being an inferior if enjoyable copy of the original.