Roger Zelazny’s 1967 science-fiction novel Lord of Light starts with its protagonist being rescued from Heaven against his will. “Sam” had passed on to an ethereal, Nirvana-like afterlife, but unfortunately his services are still needed in the mortal realm, so his friends forcibly bring him back down to Earth—much to his chagrin.
It may sound strange, but Bad Santa 2 begins much the same way, in a hilarious sequence that rails against the modern franchise fixation that spawned this movie. The first Bad Santa, you may remember, ended by sending its alcoholic, Santa suit-wearing criminal Willy Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) off into a happy ending, with a lovely girlfriend and a surrogate son. But the demands of sequels mean that happy endings must be discounted, and the protagonist returned to square one. So when Bad Santa 2 opens, Willy is drunker and hornier than ever. His girlfriend is long gone, and he keeps losing menial jobs by either drinking on the clock or staring at a nearby woman’s breasts for too long. When Willy scratches “Donate organs to science” on a piece of cardboard and sticks his head in the oven, it feels like the desperate cry of a poor soul ripped from a happy ending to fuel the demands of our modern media marketplace. Haven’t you heard? Recognizable intellectual property is the only thing that matters, neat story endings be damned. I shudder to think of Woody and Buzz pulling similar stunts when Toy Story 4 finally opens.
Luckily, Willy is saved from his bungled suicide attempts by the timely arrival of Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), now fully grown but no less charmingly naïve. Marcus (Tony Cox) is back too, out of jail and ready to get back into the Santa-suited robbery game with Willy. This time the heist’s in Chicago (a fantastic, blistery setting for Christmas movies) but unfortunately, it’s also being run by Willy’s estranged mother, Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates). In this case, “estranged” means that as soon as Willy sees his mother, he immediately punches her in the face. “You still punch like your father,” she responds, unfazed.
Bates is easily the highlight of the movie, tossing off scathing one-liners and putting back gin shots while dressing as Mrs. Claus. She masterminds the robbery of a Christmas charity run by Diane (Christina Hendricks). Hendricks, unfortunately, gets little more to do than have sex with Thornton in a Christmas tree lot while screaming “F— me, Santa!”
That level of vulgarity (and there’s much more where that came from) certainly isn’t for everyone. Luckily, it seems unlikely that anyone averse to such humor will somehow be tricked into watching Bad Santa 2. “I’m not politically correct,” is one of Bates’ very first lines. As long as you know what you’re in for, the film is a hilarious good time, a respectable continuation of what made the first Bad Santa so fun. Though Marcus’ height and Thurman’s vaguely-defined mental disorder are sometimes used as the butt of jokes, most of the film’s insults are saved for the main characters themselves, and the horrible life choices they’ve made. And it just so happens that a film of people acting awful to each other feels extra real in our chaotic, insane times. B–