Fueled by cheap whiskey and greed, Willie Soke (Academy Award-winner Billy Bob Thornton), teams up once again with his angry sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox), to knock off a Chicago charity run by curvaceous Diane (Christina Hendricks). But the arrival of Willie's horror story of a mother, Sunny (Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates), and "the kid" – Thurman Merman – may upset their plan. You better watch out, Bad Santa 2 is coming to town!
It feel like every movie gets a sequel these days; it doesn’t even seem like the original needs to be profitable to get that chance. However, sometimes actors or directors can smell the stench of a trashy sequel and are wise enough to steer clear from it like it's the plague. That is exactly the case with Terry Zwigoff and 'Bad Santa 2.’ Zwigoff made his career off of black comedy with 'Ghost World' and his fascinatingly warped documentary 'Crumb' well before he reached his heights with 'Bad Santa.’ Even though the quality of his films waned after the success of 'Bad Santa,' no one can deny that the man knows how to do dark comedy right. The key is to make it relatable to the audience so that they feel like these dark and twisted characters are just a hair away from the viewer themselves. That human element is essential to black comedy, because that is what grounds it. This is something our new director, Mark Waters does not seem to understand. It's not all about crude and repulsive jokes, there need to be a relatable quality behind it all.
Billy Bob Thornton reprises his role as Willie Soke and he is as heinous as ever, just not in a good way. In most of the first film, we see a sweetness just beneath the surface of Willie that is largely extricated here. But Willie is now beyond the point of no return, as he says numerous times here, and he isn't the only one. His old backstabbing buddy Marcus (Tony Cox) and newcomer Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates) have devised a new Christmas plan to rob a charity run by Diane Hastings (Christina Hendrix). The spin they play here is that Willie doesn’t need to sit down with kids this time around, instead all he needs to do to blend in is stand outside in a Santa suit and collect donations.
Unfortunately, every newcomer to this movie feels crowbarred in to give another crude but bland performance. I have never been a fan of Christina Hendrix’s work outside of ‘Mad Men,’ and this film didn’t change my mind. She isn’t given anything to do here but be the woman who falls for Willie whenever he walks into the room. At a few points, they try to go for the same raunchy sex scene like in the first film, but Hendrix plays it so flat I got the sense she was clearly disinterested, and given the fact that Billy Bob is phoning it in as well, who would blame her? But the absolute worst new addition is Kathy Bates’ Sunny, who is Willie’s mother. Here is a character so heinous there is absolutely no redeeming quality to her whatsoever. Again, I will say we need to relate to these characters in order to care about them when they go over the deep end. There is not a single relatable thing about her character in the entire movie, so when the climax wants you to feel something for her relationship with Willie it falls flat as a board.
It seems that Thornton is sleepwalking through the entire film, probably to collect a check. In the first film, there was a sense of humanity behind his raging alcoholism. Here, there is nothing but crude humor and lame tasteless gags. Even the callbacks, like screaming at people with his mouth full, falls incredibly flat and is awkwardly inserted. Willie’s job this time around is to collect donations as Santa, so when he freaks out and tackles a guy in full Santa get up, it is supposed to be funny. Instead it feels forced and unearned. They try to give him some humanity with the character of Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), but it feels incredibly tacked on at the end and ultimately doesn’t seem to sway Willie either way in his final decisions. The heart and the essence of this character has been extracted from this film. So, when it’s time for the climax, and Willie must show that he has learned a thing or two, it feels sudden and unearned.
This isn’t to say I didn’t get a few laughs during the film. I found a large amount of the gags with Marcus quite entertaining, especially his infatuation with Jenny (Gina De Luca), a security officer that is too bad for him to handle. But there were large portions of this movie that felt like the parts I loved the most about the original film was exorcised here. This is a soulless film that doesn’t understand its own humor at points. If ‘Bad Santa 2’ does nothing else, it proves how important it is to have a director that understands the material they are portraying, and Mark Waters clearly does not.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Broad Green Picture releases a very special version of ‘Bad Santa 2’ in 4K strictly as a Best Buy exclusive, but there is something telling about its packaging. It features a hardcover casing with the same graphics as the standard Blu-ray without the same graphic boasting that it features HDR. That is because this particular 4K Ultra HD release was not given that feature (more on that below). Inside the casing lies a BD-66 Ultra HD Blu-ray and a standard BD-50 Blu-ray with no digital copy. Like most Ultra HD releases, we are sent straight to the main menu without any theatrical trailers and we are able to navigate from there.
‘Bad Santa 2’ forces its raunch on your television set on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 2160P HEVC/H.265 encode that exceeds expectations despite one confusing disadvantage. This particular release is actually the first 4K release that doesn't feature HDR capabilities. In order to get the true experience of this disc, I would suggest turning off the HDR setting on your very fancy 4K television so they don't mess with the visuals on screen. It actually pains me to tell you that, considering the fact that ‘Bad Santa 2’ was actually filmed digitally with the Panasonic VariCam 35 and mastered in 4K. So, unlike most Ultra HD material this isn’t an up conversion from a 2K source.
Due to being filmed digitally, the film quality results in much better detail. So, for those of you who want to see every genital and sex gag in pristine sharpness then this is the transfer for you? But seriously, we do get to see every imperfection on Willie’s Santa outfit in great detail and that does add to the feeling of how low this character has fallen. Or all the small minute holes and shabby details in Willie’s hotel room. All of this does seem minuscule, but it is the absolute best way to provide some much-needed character development in a film that doesn’t have much. But if you think that is it, you would be mistaken, because skin tones have greatly improved from its standard Blu-ray counterpart. Many of the darker bar scenes come with hot skin tones on the standard Blu-ray, and they are largely fixed in the Ultra HD version. As you can tell, this is a well-done upgrade from Blu-ray to Ultra HD; unfortunately, we still have that pesky HDR issue. I am writing an Ultra HD review right now and I can’t talk about the HDR and that is a problem. For that, I have to knock the score down half a star, but this is still a welcome improvement.
‘Bad Santa 2’ corrupts your home theater with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that lacks the same punch and attitude as the movie itself. Right off the bat, it is a tad bit disappointing that we don’t get a Dolby Atmos track here, even though a DTS-HD MA track was more along the lines of what I was expecting. Beyond that, the biggest issue is that this track suffers a great deal from being a bit soft on the ears. When Willie goes to sock a guy in the face in full Santa get up, wouldn’t it be more effective if we really felt that punch carried through the speakers with a hard hitting thwap? Here, he might as well have just slapped the guy across the face, because that’s what it feels like. In fact, the entire mix does feel a bit muted with several moments lacking impact.
Speaker separation is another issue. So, when there is the occasional bodily fluid joke that goes too far, or when a fight breaks out between Willie and Marcus around the hotel room, it has a little less impact. Don't get me wrong, this track isn't all that bad. To put it in context, this is more in line with other comedy tracks on the market. But with a movie that tries its damnedest to be so shocking, its sound mixing contradicts that point entirely.
Thurman Then & Now (HD 2:27) - A look at how Thurman has grown, or not grown, since we last saw him and how Brett approaches the roll. An interesting fact is that he had gotten into shape before the production, and had to gain 50 pounds and dye his hair.
Just Your Average Red Band Featurette (HD 2:00) - A short featurette about the raunch that was on set along with on the film.
"That’s My Willie" Original Animated Series (HD 3:51) I now understand where this humor belongs. This is a series of very short animated films that really play as short gags. Each story is told through the eyes of Thurman. I honestly feel like if they were going to go this far with the humor, this should have been animated and put on Netflix or something along those lines.
Jingle Balls (HD 0:35) - A song that is comprised of only short clips of profanity throughout the film. You know, in case they didn’t beat you over the head with it enough during the movie itself.
Gag Reel (HD 3:59) - A joyless gag reel where I firmly believe the actors really do mean the heinous things coming out of their own mouths. I didn’t think I would ever see a gag reel quite like this one where the actors don’t even laugh at each other’s jokes. Still, the funniest actor here is Tony Cox by far.
Alternate Opening (HD 1:00) - I actually found this to be a better opening. It shows Willie at an everyday job, working at a convenience store that sells liquor, and how he deals with customers (and tastes the merchandise, of course).
Deleted Scenes (HD 2:41) - Like I said before, Tony Cox is the funniest actor here and these deleted scenes feature mostly him and they are pretty hilarious because of it.
Alternate Ending (HD 2:49) - This is actually a better ending than the one we see. It ties up more loose ends, and actually adds a tad more heart between Willie and Thurman.
Trailers and Spots (HD 7:14)
‘Bad Santa 2’ left me thinking a lot about my experience, only for all the wrong reasons. Being a fan of the yearly Marvel films and all big budget action, I have always stated how important it is to have a director that understands the material. But I never really put that same emphasis on comedy. That is, until today. There are many problems here, and mostly all of them fall on director Mark Waters. He clearly doesn't understand the type of humor that was in the original film, and fails to find the heart behind the dark humor that was just beneath the surface. Even the acting is bland across the board here. But I don't entirely blame the actors. If feels like even they know this material is lacking. But they are there to do a job, so they get in front of the camera, read their lines, yell a bit (because they know there was a lot of that in the original), then walk off frame. This movie is no heart and all lewd jokes, and tasteless humor. So, like the old saying we all were told when we were children, ‘if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all,’ well…. this movie shouldn't have been made at all, and deserves the obscurity it will inevitably get compared to its predecessor.