A lot can happen in 13 years: You can watch two wars start and finish; you can see social media platforms sprout up and change the public conversation; you can elect a country’s first black president and its first orange one. What you apparently can’t do, however, is teach an old dog like Willie Soke, the profane petty crook and several-leagues-less-than-jolly St. Nick for hire of Bad Santa, new tricks – or worse, make his old tricks somehow still seem appealing by default. For those of us who love Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 cantankerous-as-hell holiday comedy and Billy Bob Thornton’s unforgivingly grim, undeniably funny-as-fuck performance as the world’s most inappropriate department store Kris Kringle, our annual viewing of this tainted gem is one of the few bright spots in a forced season of cheeriness. (Like Bad Lieutenant, it’s a movie that doubles down on its ugliness so much that the negative title seems like an understatement — he’s not a “bad” Santa so much as a strong contender for the worst one ever.) We have long hoped that there might one day be a sequel. We need to be careful what we wish for.
It’s not so much that the long gap between movies soured us on that signature BS nastiness – folks still love a good anal-sex joke – or that Thornton can’t keep turning leers or lines like “You could be speaking fucking Swahili and I wouldn’t know any better” while talking to a child into comic gold dust. It’s not that Bad Santa 2‘s director Mark Waters can’t bring the acidic when he wants to (see The House of Yes or Mean Girls). It’s not that familiarity automatically breeds contempt, so when Soke is once more recruited by his literal partner-in-crime Marcus (Tony Cox) for a scam in Chicago or a now-grown Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) keeps dogging his every move, we’re happy to see the old faces. And it’s not even that the newcomers, like Christina Hendricks’ horny charity organizer or Kathy Bates’ butch Ma Soke, who’s planning a heist so she can get to know her son again, feel like horrible additions to what we can now call … what, the Santaverse?
It’s that, deep down, there’s a nagging sense that for all of Bad Santa 2‘s pottymouth talk, perversity regarding plus-size females and puke jokes, it simply does not have the courage of its crass convictions. There’s a going-through-the-motions vibe to the whole affair; it’s not a movie that has faith in ill will towards all men and that eggnog is best served spiked with bourbon and arsenic so much as it’s willing to adopt a misanthropic pose in the name of people-pleasing. The original believed in its sodden, everyone-sucks with every ounce of its hardened, pitch-black heart – ironically, its horriblness made it that much more humanistic (and hilarious). The sequel is closer to fool’s coal: You can blow the thin patina of painted darkness off it with a breeze and find there’s nothing underneath.