Bad Santa 2

 

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Billy Bob Thornton returns for more festive misanthropy thirteen years after the far 

superior original.

 

Bad Santa 2

Santa claws: Billy Bob with Tony Cox as Marcus

   

Back in 2003, Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa took the sentiment of ‘bah, humbug’ and ran with it. It was the story of a reprobate who used the guise of Santa Claus as a cover to steal from shopping malls. Partnered with a three-foot crook (Tony Cox) who posed as his elf, Willy Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) was one of the most reprehensible characters ever to grace a cinema screen. The black comedy, while no doubt offensive too many, was nonetheless wickedly funny. This it achieved by grounding the proceedings in a rough approximation of reality. It certainly was an outrageous original.

 

Mark Waters' Bad Santa 2 is not only not an original, but it is a sequel – which means it tries to out-do its predecessor. Donald Trump would love it. There’s something here to disgust everyone. It’s not so much politically incorrect as politically deplorable. It makes fun of dwarfs, suicide, charity, alcoholism, necrophilia, religion, child abuse, the nubile, the disabled, the homeless, the mentally challenged – you name it.

 

The first film managed to be funny because, although he was a grotesque, Willy Soke was a marginally credible grotesque. And that was a tricky balancing act to pull off. In the sequel he has become a caricature who, on auto pilot, offends everybody around him. He is not an idiot (after all, he is a skilful safecracker), so when, at his wit’s end, he sticks his head into an electric oven, the audience is alienated by the comic lie. Much funnier is the following scene when, throttled by an electric cable tethered to the ceiling, he is unable to clearly utter the word “chair” to his sweet-natured, autistic companion, Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who has turned up in the nick of time.

 

Another misstep is the introduction of a character who’s even more abominable than Willie – his own mother. But the film is not Bad Mama. Still, Kathy Bates has always been a game egg and is given free rein to debase herself with aplomb, whether belching in her son’s face, officiating from the loo or recalling memories of when she used to spit in Willy’s mouth when he was little. As a con-woman, she also proves to be more duplicitous than her son and pulls off the act of a sweet old granny with finesse, while tripping over children when they’re not looking.

 

If the film fails to engender laughs the second time round it’s because the tone is wrong. Bad Santa 2 not only plies a raft of stereotypes but adds a soupy score and an unhelpful patina of polish. The sad thing is that Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross's script is not without intelligence or even wit. When it’s not trying to be offensive, it catches one off guard. There’s an enjoyable cameo from Jeff Skowron as a security guard with a vocabulary above his station and a very funny scene in which a variety of children sit on Willie’s lap and demand presents he has no inkling of (Grand Theft Auto III?). There’s also a brief misunderstanding over the words “flout” and “felch” nicely delivered by Christina Hendricks as the film’s only pleasant character, who then turns out to be a slut (“I'm a good girl, but sometimes I need to be bad”). And bad really is the word.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, Jenny Zigrino, Jeff Skowron, Octavia Spencer. 

 

Dir Mark Waters, Pro Geyer Kosinski and Andrew Gunn, Screenplay Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross, Ph Theo van de Sande, Pro Des Isabelle Guay, Ed Travis Sittard, Music Lyle Workman, Costumes Mario Davignon.

 

Miramax Ingenious/Geyer Kosinski Productions-Entertainment One.

92 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 23 November 2016. Cert. 15.