Bad Santa 2 Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates. Directed by Mark Waters. Rated R. Now playing citywide.
When Bad Santa was released in 2003, it was a refreshingly nasty counterpoint to nonstop Christmas cheer, recasting a traditionally wholesome figure (the department-store Santa Claus) as a foul-mouthed, drunken degenerate. Its relentless bad taste has aged poorly in some ways, especially given how many comedies have attempted to push the same boundaries since, but it still has a sharp wit and some surprisingly appealing characters. Very little of that is evident in Bad Santa 2, which belatedly brings back misanthropic alcoholic Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) and his erstwhile partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox), whose previous scam involved robbing malls.
This time around they’re looking for a bigger score, taking down a Salvation Army-like charity with the help of Willie’s equally vile mom (Kathy Bates). This process involves recycling many of the previous movie’s jokes, including Willie’s relationship with optimistic simpleton Thurman (Brett Kelly), whose painful naïveté was cute when he was a kid, but is just creepy and off-putting now that he’s an adult. None of the original creative team has returned, and the replacement filmmakers (screenwriters Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross and director Mark Waters) have gone straight for vulgarity and grossness without capturing the genuine subversion of the original.