In Bad Santa 2; Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer – on screen for all but a minute – declares her anus as a useless tool for sexual relief. In Bad Santa 2; Academy Award winner Kathy Bates (68) discusses clitoral stimulation with her son, Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton (61). In Bad Santa 2; six-time Emmy-nominee Christina Hendricks considers the action of felching before screaming “fuck me Santa” whilst up against a Christmas tree in front of a group of small children.
Inherent nastiness isn’t an issue. Characters don’t have to be affable for an audience to at least partially warm to. The issue lies far deeper than nastiness. Bad Santa 2 is nasty, bitter, corrosive; a film steeped in misogyny and racism. It makes a mockery of those with disabilities, child abuse, sees women as either bitches or sentient fuck dolls. If ever a film were to stand tall as the champion of the caustic “alt-right” (read as actual, literal Nazi’s), this would be it.
The plotting, erratic and indolent, works less as a tool to move a narrative, more as thin foil to cover 90 minutes of unpleasant one-liners. Billy Bob returns as Willie Soke, still languishing in the gutter, whose lame attempts at suicide are interrupted by Thurman Murman (Brett Kelly), still attached 13 years later, who carries a bag full of money sent by one-time partner Marcus (Tony Cox). Descending upon Chicago, Willie and Marcus-alongside mother Sunny (Kathy Bates)-plot to rob a corrupt charity in part run by Christina Hendricks.
Billy Bob, whilst shooting the first, wholly admitted to being intoxicated during the majority of filming, as if method acting was to be found at the bottom of a bottle. Yet for all its worth, that first film succeeded not simply as a film to offend, but as a film with a beating heart – all be it drowning in cheap vodka and warm beer – in part as a result of Billy Bob’s drunkard performance.
Maybe he too was drunk on the set of its sequel; yet evidence points at the following morning, more hungover than intoxicated. His performance is languid, as if he fell out of his trailer, a collection of miscellaneous empty bottles following suit, calling for a single-take before passing out there on the spot.
This slurring laziness lend itself rather well to his dead-behind-the-eyes performance whilst Santa at a wealthy Christmas grotto, yet every other moment you can almost see him peer past the camera, embarrassed as that ditty from Curb Your Enthusiasm plays.
Kathy Bates fairs slightly better. Few actors can spout abuse quite like Bates and anytime she’s on screen, the film settles into a slight rhythm. Yet even her acting prowess can’t find compassion in a mother/son relationship fanciful in its absurdity. A late attempt at defending the casting of a woman just seven years her “son’s” senior plays lazy and ignorant. The two on screen have clear chemistry, bouncing off one another like a drunken game of ping-pong, yet for all the world, their familial relationship only ever teeters on the edge of farcical.
It’s not as if director Mark Waters’ hasn’t found hope in hate before. Mean Girls, still a joy a decade on, succeeded in humanising those ghastly, but he’s found scraping the very bottom of the barrel, as if humanity is to be found in that thick, treacle-like substance found at the foot of the ale. He does find a morsel of hope late on in Thurman belting out Silent Night, but in a film bilious in its manner, the tonal disparities only play it as dreadfully cloying.
That bitterness that defined the first has developed and evolved into something all the more boorish and unrefined. No stone is left unturned. Tony Cox is faced not only with jokes concerning his height, but that of him being African American, whilst Brett Kelly again is placed in front of a firing squad of adults I presume wear Ed Hardy, throwing out high fives as they make a mockery of his weight.
Bad Santa 2 drowns in its self-satisfactory nastiness, dragging the immensely talented down with it. It’s virulent, putrid filmmaking. Now to find chloride to wash it off…
Bad Santa 2 opens in UK cinemas today (Wednesday, 23rd November)