Poor Octavia Spencer. Having the knowledge that it was only a handful of years ago since she was awarded a best supporting actress Oscar for her work in The Help, it’s saddening to see her returning as a prostitute in the low-brow sequel, Bad Santa 2. Yes, I realize that she’ll be appearing on screen in what is, hopefully, a meatier part in the upcoming drama, Hidden Figures. And, yes, I realize that she was in the original Bad Santa some thirteen years ago and, perhaps, was returning in the sequel as a favor of some sort. None of that matters because her role in the film is a microcosm of what’s wrong with yet another belated sequel to a certified cult classic that has attained a legion of fans over the years.
Bad Santa 2 tries its best to capture the lightning in a bottle found in the original film by reassembling most of the major cast members who are still among the living (RIP Bernie Mac and John Ritter). The writing team assembled for the sequel-the original writers and director, Terry Zwigoff, wisely opted to skip this one-try really hard to attain the subversive/raunchy atmosphere of the original film. Instead it comes across as rote and flat and, mostly just desperate. At times you can almost envision the flop sweat dripping from the writers as they attempt to get all the mileage they can squeeze from the unique characters created for the original film. It’s true that if you are fan of the original Bad Santa you’ll probably enjoy revisiting the characters after a thirteen year absence. Once that novelty wears off, however, the film reveals itself to be the pale imitation of the original that it truly is.
As the film opens, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), the titular character, has just been released from prison. He’s living in what is best described as a hovel and his girlfriend (Lauren Graham from the first film, seen here only in a photo) has broken up with him. His lone human connection is Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly). Thurman, of course, is still as childlike as he was in the first film except now he’s twenty one and still acting like the wide eyed, innocent eight year old he was in the first film.
Willie’s old partner, Marcus (Tony Cox) eventually reconnects with him and concocts a scheme to rob a crooked charity of its profits with Marcus donning his Santa suit once more. Things get complicated when Willie realizes that Marcus’ other business partner is none other than Willie’s own mother (Kathy Bates). Of course the film stops seemingly every few minutes or so in order for Willie to have intercourse with whoever happens to be around at the moment or some shenanigans of the sort.
It’s really something to think that Bad Santa 2 contains the combined talents of three former Oscar winners and, yet, they all seem to be on auto pilot. The whole endeavor reeks of post production tampering by the studio and, perhaps, that’s where the trouble lies. As it stands, Bad Santa 2 isn’t likely to leave viewers with a hankering for a third visit from this version of Saint Nick.
Photo: Billy Bob & Brett Kelly in Bad Santa 2
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