In calling “Bad Santa 2” the feel-bad movie of the season, I don’t mean that it revives the rude-and-crude fun of the original. I mean that this lazy sequel is a lump of coal in a dirty stocking.
Terry Zwigoff’s provocative 2003 film created an unforgettable Scrooge character in Willie Stokes. He was a profane, alcoholic safecracker who specialized in ripping off department stores while posing as their holiday St. Nick. It was a snarling star turn for Billy Bob Thornton, who turned the one-gag character into an offensively hilarious real person. Putting a kid on his lap was like telling the youngster to pet a pit bull.
Thornton is back in his Kris Kringle disguise, his temper out of control just as before. This time, though, he’s giving his impressive all to sell jokes long past their expiration date.
In this follow-up helmed by Mark Waters, Willie is in a suicidal funk about his permanent position at the bottom of life’s barrel. Brett Kelly, who returns as Willie’s naive sidekick Thurman, hands him a cash-filled parcel from his former crime partner Marcus (Tony Cox). Part olive branch and part bribe, the package promises Willie a shot at the proverbial one last job in Chicago, where the diminutive con man aims to snatch $2 million from a local charity.
The film’s power dive pauses for a bit as we are introduced to Willie’s much-loathed mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates), who is as sweet as a gingerbread cookie filled with razors. She apologizes for destroying his life, declaring that she masterminded the crime to make amends. On the other side of the scheme is Diane (Christina Hendricks), the wife of the charity’s director, with whom Willie wants to connect on a physical level.
The new cast members keep the film from being wholly devoid of laughs. But Waters gives “Bad Santa 2” the static look of a TV sitcom, and the plot is so muddled it seems to have been stitched together from the dregs of ditched drafts. Santa isn’t bad anymore, only sad.
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates, Brett Kelly, Christina Hendricks.
Director: Mark Waters.
Screenwriters: Johnny Rosenthal, Shauna Cross.
A Bleecker Street release. Running time: 92 minutes. Vulgar language, graphic nudity, crude sexual content, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.