The sequel is rarely a one-up of its original, except in the case of The Godfather: Part II and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. But, at the very least, Bad Santa 2 doesn’t disappoint with bringing us Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) back at his most curmudgeonly and cynical. After the thirteen years that have passed since last we saw him, Willie is in a worse state than ever before: unpaid bills, lost his girlfriend, Sue (Lauren Graham–maybe her Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life filming schedule conflicted), and zero job prospects to be had.
Sure Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly)–now a 21-year-old sandwich-making aficionado at Hungry Hoagies–still hangs around, loyal to a fault, but that isn’t much consolation to someone like Willie. And then, just when he’s truly about to end it all (via some trial and error methods), Thurman bursts through his apartment with a letter filled with cash and a cell phone. The contents are, naturally, from Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) the unloveable “dwarf”/business partner who betrayed him during their last big heist together, you know, when Willie got shot repeatedly and still survived. This time, he has a job for him in Chicago, though he fails to reveal the two most important details about it: 1) it’s money from a children’s charity called Giving City and 2) his mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates), is working on the job with them.
If you thought you hated your family, Willie outshines this sentiment with the pure contempt he holds for his mother, a woman that calls him “Shit Stink” and rehashes memories like, “I didn’t know I gave birth to him ’till I tripped on ‘im.” It is his long-standing ire that nearly prevents him from working the job, but then, if he didn’t there would be no movie.
The shift of creative hands from Terry Zwigoff to Mark Waters and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (of I Love You, Phillip Morris fame) to Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross lends the sequel a more commercial feel–there is certainly not the same level of natural grit as before, though the jokes remain worthily raunchy. And with Christina Hendricks in the role of Giving City chairwoman Diane, the sex fetish core of the original story changes completely (now Willie has to beg her to say his favorite line, “Fuck me, Santa,” whereas it came quite effortlessly from Sue). Diane’s undercover nymphomaniacal ways are also in keeping with the nature of any female character that has crossed Entourage creator Doug Ellin’s path.
Still, if you can get past the whole, “Ugh, it’s a sequel” thing, Bad Santa 2 does have a worthwhile message underneath it all: family is made not born into. Though the holidays frequently like to make those who aren’t particularly close to their family feel like shit, the season is really about the people you choose to surround yourself with in good times and bad. This is not always necessarily one’s blood relatives. And even a congenitally self-involved Leo (we find out Willie’s birthday is August 4th after his mom guesses the date wrong a few times) like Willie can sift through his selfishness every now and again to appreciate the one person who has ever truly been there for him through thick and thin: Thurman.
Maybe a happy ending is a copout for a movie like Bad Santa 2, but as Willie reminds, “Even when there’s one happy ending some new shit starts all over again.” So don’t get too fuckin’ excited about it.