A Christmas movie doesn’t have to be that good to make it into the yearly holiday rotation. (Cases in point: Elf. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Love Actually. Don’t @ me.) So when a Christmas movie is just a little bit better than it needs to be, it’s reason to rejoice. After all, we’re gonna be stuck watching the damn thing every year for the rest of our lives, so every little bit counts.
Bad Santa is one of those above-average Christmas movies. Bad Santa 2 is not.
Retaining the gross-out humor but losing the pitch-black worldview that made Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 original such a hilarious shock, Bad Santa 2 is essentially just a rude Yuletide comedy with some familiar faces. Billy Bob Thornton returns as Willie Soke, and Tony Cox is his partner in crime, Marcus. The curly-haired kid, Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), is all grown up and even more blithely moronic. Bernie Mac and John Ritter are missing, of course, but Kathy Bates and Christina Hendricks take their place, as Willie’s mom and his object of lust, respectively.
The caper in this Bad Santa is decidedly less interesting—Willie, mom, and Marcus plot to rip off a suspiciously profitable Christmas charity. There are good jokes and bad as the movie tries to find its heart in the relationship between Willie and his mom, who’s even more of a surly grouch than he is. Wisely, the movie sidesteps any real sentimentality, but by the time the end credits roll, you’ll feel like you’ve watched something out of the Hangover cinematic universe.
To be fair, Bad Santa 2 is probably decent enough to warrant a place as a mediocre-Christmas-movie perennial. But when you remember how well the first Bad Santa drew its characters—with depth and cruelty and razor-sharp precision—the sequel is less “White Christmas” and more white elephant.