On a distant planet made of coal, a parallel universe Billy Bob Thornton stars in a film called Badly Traumatized Santa, where a suicidal man raised without love and kindness realizes he's deeply, deeply fucked up. The script is exactly like the new Earth film Bad Santa 2. Only ours thinks it's a comedy.
Mark Waters's sequel has a perverse problem: Billy Bob Thornton is an excellent actor. He's so convincing that when his Willie Soke opens up about his abusive childhood — how his 13-year-old mom gave birth to him in juvenile hall, how his criminal parents forced him to scam for change, how he was treated no better than one of those orphaned monkeys who cling to a metal doll — we believe him. Thornton stares at the camera with his weary face and solemn silver hair. He's as lean and suspicious as an alley cat. Even booze barely cheers him up. Suddenly, this bad Santa isn't funny. He's sincere. And we aren't laughing.
The rest of the sourness comes from Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross's script, which poisons the heartwarming hot-chocolate ending of the 2003 original that gifted Soke a Santa-sexual girlfriend and an 8-year-old adopted son, of sorts. The sequel opens with Soke throwing her picture in the trash. Then he pees on it. “Happy endings are bullshit,” he grunts. Well, certain kinds. As for naked “happy endings,” Soke's, um, goose still does plenty of a'laying — women can't resist his bad-breathed boozehound.
Here, his ambitions are smaller. Forget joy. Soke has embraced his own death when his elfin ex-partner Marcus (Tony Cox) lures him to stay alive for one last heist at a charity for homeless children. Soke doesn't trust Marcus, who tried to shoot him 13 years ago, and he loathes their third partner, his estranged mother Sunny, who made him into a monster. To Soke, the only thing moms are good for is popping their titties out in public while breastfeeding.
If you needed proof — make that more proof — that even Oscar-winning actresses can't overcome Hollywood's cruelty, here is Octavia Spencer once again playing a hooker who smacks her thigh and orders a shy Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), now a 21-year-old virgin, to “Get a bite of this pumpernickel.” Here is Kathy Bates getting slapped in the face and watching The Bachelor on the toilet. Christina Hendricks hasn't won an Academy Award, but the six-time Emmy nominee doesn't deserve to walk into her first scene and hear, “I bet that pussy got lips like an orangutan.”
These are the only attempts at jokes. Bad Santa 2 doesn't hate Christmas. It just hates women.
Maybe in that alt-timeline, it'd be funny to watch an unhinged white man rage about grabbing pussies. Everything he says should get a guy fired from wearing a fuzzy red hat — in reality, we just hired him for the most important job in the world. Maybe I'd howl when he mocks the disabled and shudders that the Irish aren't white enough, or cackle when his mom boasts, “I don't speak politically correct.” In my theater, just under half the audience did. I just saw an angry, desperate man, born into despair, ready to turn on the oven, stick his head inside, and burn it all down. Ho ho hopeless.