Wednesday, December 14, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Bad Santa 2

Bad Santa 2 was written by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross, and directed by Mark Waters.

Rosenthal previously write a short film called The Convention back in 2006, and that's pretty much the extent of his movie work. Cross previously wrote Whip It (?), What To Expect When You're Expecting  (??) and If I Stay (???).

Waters is a very mediocre director who brought us such gems as Freaky Friday (2003), Mean Girls, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Ghosts Of Girfriends Past, Mr. Popper's Penguins and Vampire Academy.


I usually don't mention executive producers in my reviews, but I'm making an exception in this case. The original Bad Santa was executive produced by the Coen Brothers. You know, the team who wrote and directed Blood Simple, Raising ArizonaMiller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, among many others.

Sadly, the Coens had absolutely nothing to do with Bad Santa 2, which should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of the film.

Bad Santa was a surprise hit when it came out back in 2003, grossing $60 million against its $23 million budget. The cynical story of Willie Soke, a hopeless, antisocial drunken asshole was the perfect antidote to the usual treacly holiday fare. It became an instant favorite of mine, and I watch it every year.

A big part of the original film's success was its shock value audiences weren't prepared for an Xmas movie about a foul-mouthed, womanizing alcoholic in a Santa suit, boozing and screwing his way through life.

The problem is you can only shock the audience like that once. You can't use the same old trick again, as Bad Santa 2 most definitively proves. The sequel lacks any bite or edginess. It's almost as if the writers realized they could never top the original film's over-the-top humor, so they didn't even bother.

Bad Santa 2's lifelessness may also be due to our changing times. The original film came out thirteen years ago, when the world was a more innocent place and the image of a drunken Santa was truly scandalous. Now we have a new President who runs around bragging about grabbing pussies. Suddenly the idea of a drunken, profanity-spewing Santa Claus seems positively quaint.

Did you enjoy the plot of the first film, in which Willie Soke poses as a department store Santa while planning a safe cracking job, while inexplicably attracting the attention of a beautiful woman, and becoming surrogate father to a strange, lonely child? If so, you're in luck! Bad Santa 2 dutifully trots out the exact same plot points (to the point of recreating certain scenes shot for shot) with predictably diminishing returns. It is basically the same damned film. Except not as well done.

In most instances, it's necessary for a sequel to ignore the events of the original film in order to work. So it is with Bad Santa 2. In the first movie, Willie Soke is a miserable, drunken bastard with absolutely no redeeming qualities, who meets a young boy that awakens a tiny flicker of humanity inside him. He even gets a mildly Happy Ending (the story kind, not the massage parlor kind!).

Sadly, Bad Santa 2 flushes all that right down the sh*tter. The sequel ignores the Happy Ending and reboots the character of Willie to his default setting, so the audience gets to watch him discover his humanity all over again. Yawn.

I could forgive most of Bad Santa 2's abundant sins if it was actually funny. Sadly, it's not. The original film featured a very simple plot, on which the writers hung a series of genuinely funny jokes. The sequel does just the opposite— the writers were so focused on the complicated storyline they apparently forgot they were making a comedy.

Bad Santa had a dismal and highly offensive tone, but very, very deep down there was a tiny kernel of sweetness at its core. Yes, Willie was a horrible person, but ultimately he learned to do the right thing for his makeshift family. Unfortunately Bad Santa 2 lacks the heart of its predecessor, which just makes it mean-spirited rather than humorous.

SPOILERS FOR A 
FILM WITH THE EXACT SAME PLOT AS THE FIRST!

The Plot:
The film begins with a voice-over by Willie Soke (played again by Billy Bob Thorton), detailing the last few years of his life. The Happy Ending we saw in the first film didn't take, as his constant screw-ups drove away his love interest Sue. He then returns to his booze-filled, miserable life. He decides he's had enough, and it's time to end it all.

Willie sticks his head in his oven, only to discover it's an electric model and not gas. He then tries to hang himself in his motel room, but he's interrupted by the appearance of Thurman Merman (played by Brett Kelly), the boy from the original movie. Fortunately for Willie, his suicide attempt fails as the lighting fixture gives way and he falls to the floor.

Thurman is now a hulking, simple-minded behemoth of twenty one, who's realized his life-long dream of working in a sandwich shop. Willie tries to convince him to stop following him around, for both their sakes.

Willie gets a visit from his old partner Marcus (played by Tony Cox), who's fresh out of prison. He says he knows of a safe cracking job in Chicago that's worth two million. Willie isn't keen on partnering with Marcus again, since the last time they worked together he tried to kill him. Marcus apologizes for the murder attempt, and says that's all in the past. Having literally nothing else going for him, Willie agrees.

By the way, are you laughing yet? This is ostensibly a comedy, remember?

Willie and Marcus arrive in Chicago. Marcus shows him the venue they're going to rob, which turns out to be the Giving Way, a charity foundation. Marcus says the first thing they'll need to do is volunteer to work at the foundation, and wear their old Santa and Elf costumes to blend in. Naturally Willie isn't thrilled by this news.

To make things even worse, Willie's horrible mother Sunny (played by Kathy Bates) also works at the Giving Way. The second Willie sees her he punches her in the face and storms out. Marcus follows, and Willie accuses him of manipulating him, knowing he'd never agree to the escapade if he knew his mother was involved.

How about now? Are you laughing?

Marcus and Sunny meet in her apartment to discuss the plan. She tells Marcus they really need Willie, as she has "a touch of Parkinson's," and can't crack a safe like she used to. Marcus meets with Willie and finally talks him into doing the job. Willie says once they score the $2 million, they're cutting out Sunny and leaving her high and dry.

Willie dons his Santa suit and begins collecting money on the street. Meanwhile, Marcus sneaks into the Giving Way building, and crawls through the vents, trying to locate the safe. He overhears Giving Way director Regent Hastings talking with his secretary (with whom he's having an affair) about embezzling funds.


Laughing yet?

Willie is approached by Regent's wife Diane, who convinces him to attend an AA meeting. He goes with her, mostly in hopes of getting into her pants later. After the meeting Diane admits she's an alcoholic as well, and hasn't been intimate with Regent in over a decade (!). Since this is a Bad Santa movie, they naturally end up having sex behind a dumpster in an alley. Willie insists Diana call him "Santa" as they have sex, the way Sue used to do in the first film. Creepy!

Marcus tries to get the keys to the Giving Way building by seducing a security guard named Gina. She turns him down due to his short stature. Sunny suggests Willie seduce Gina, and he does so easily, which angers Marcus. Sunny gives Willie a gun, telling him Marcus will undoubtedly double cross him again. Against his better judgement, he starts to have the tiniest of feelings for his terrible mother again.

Laughing?

Meanwhile, Thurman has traveled all the way from Arizona to Chicago to find Willie (?). Needless to say, Willie isn't happy to see him, and says he can't stay with him. He dumps him at a shelter run by the Giving Way. Thurman sees the charity's children's choir practicing, and asks if he can join.

Willie, Marcus and Sunny prepare to rob the Giving Way during their annual donation banquet. Sunny waits outside with the van, while Willie and Marcus sneak into the building. On the way to the safe, Willie sees the children's choir singing in the banquet room. Thurman, dressed in a Santa suit, sings a solo piece, his voice like an angel. It actually drives Willie to tears (!).

Willie easily opens the safe and takes the money, which, due to Regent's embezzling, is considerably less than $2 million. Marcus then reveals he's double crossing Willie, and tells him to hand over the cash. The alarm goes off and they both leave before they're caught.

Outside, Sunny announces she's double crossing them both. She shoots Marcus in the chest and runs over him with the van. Willie chases after her on foot. Sunny heads for Santa Con, an outdoor celebration filled with thousands of people in Santa costumes. She easily disappears into the crowd with the money. Willie somehow catches her and she shoots him. He grabs the bag as she turns, and for some reason all the money flies up into the air. A crowd gathers, frantically snatching at the money. Sunny shoots at Willie again, but this time Thurman (?) jumps in the way, taking the bullet (in the butt) for him. The cops take Sunny away, and Willie and Thurman are rushed to the hospital.

Cut to a few days later, when Willie and Diane are having sex (sort of) in his hospital room. In another voice-over, he reveals he double crossed his mom by tipping off the cops about her plan, resulting in him neatly avoiding another prison term. Regent's embezzling was discovered and he was fired from the charity, and Diane's taken over. He's decided to keep Thurman around, as he says his new family is much better than his old one. He now works as a janitor at the hospital.

We then see Marcus recovering in a hospital room. Willie enters, and for a second we think he's going to smother his old partner with a pillow, but he changes his mind and tea bags Marcus, and posts the photos on Instagram.

Oh, my sides!

Thoughts:

• There's not a lot to say about this film. Bad comedies are always tough to review, as there are only so many ways to say "It's not funny."

• In Bad Santa, Willie meets Sue (played by Lauren Graham), a woman with a bizarre Santa fetish. The movie ends on a hopeful note, as it's implied they're a couple.

Sadly, Bad Santa 2 totally erases that ending, which really pissed me off. Sue's completely written out of the sequel, with barely a mention from Willie.

As much as I'd like to, I can't fault the writers for this one. Apparently Lauren Graham was approached to reprise her role, but was busy filming Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. Darn.

• Speaking of Lauren Graham: At the beginning of the film, Willie delivers a chunk of expository dialogue telling the audience what he's been doing the past thirteen years. At one point he gazes wistfully at a photo of Sue and Thurman before tearing it up (and peeing on it!). 


I wonder— did Lauren Graham get paid for appearing in a still photo?

• Credit where credit's due to actress Kathy Bates, who plays Sunny. I've never been a fan of Bates, but props to her here for diving head first into her performance as Willie's horrible, tatted-up monster of a mother.

By the way, despite the fact that they're playing mother and son, in reality Kathy Bates and Billy Bob Thornton are only seven years apart!

• Several times during the film, Sunny has a fit of wet, rasping coughs. At one point Willie becomes so concerned for her health that he steals some cough medicine for her.

I was sure we'd eventually find out that Sunny was dying of lung cancer or something, which would kindle a tiny flame of sympathy in Willie. Nope! The cough's dropped in the third act, and never brought up again.

I think maybe she was faking the cough in an effort to manipulate her son, but I'm honestly not sure. That's how well the film's directed.


• Kudos as well to actor Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman. Kelly was only ten years old when Bad Santa was filmed, and is now twenty three (!). Kelly looks almost exactly the same here (except bigger of course), and plays the character with the same wide-eyed, clueless optimism. He's probably the best thing about the movie. Definitely the funniest!

Kelly was definitely committed to this project— he reportedly gained forty pounds to reprise his role as the bumbling, dim-witted Thurman Merman. Too bad he did it for such an ill-conceived project.

Bad Santa 2 is a typical sequel that's nothing more than a sub-par rehash of the original. The uninspired, leaden script lacks the spark that made the first film special, resulting in a movie that wants to be shocking and offensive, but comes off as mean-spirited. Worst of all, it's just not funny. Do yourself a favor— skip the sequel and stick with the original. I'm waffling between giving it a C- or a D+. Ah, what the heck, it's Xmas. I give it a D+.

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