[Screen It]


(2016) (Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates) (R)

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Comedy: Former partners in crime reunite to once again pose as a Santa Claus and an elf to steal from a Chicago charity.
Conman Willie Soke (BILLY BOB THORNTON) is once again down on his luck. He lost his girlfriend, he's broke, and he wants to end it all. But three things prevent him from doing that. One, his general ineptitude when it comes to trying to commit suicide. Two, a simple-minded young man named Thurman Merman (BRETT KELLY), who he befriended as a child and who still looks up to him more than a decade later. And, three, the reappearance of his old partner in crime, Marcus (TONY COX).

Despite betraying him and nearly killing him 13 years earlier, Marcus is able to convince Willie to pull one last scam that could net them $2 million. The plan is to once again pose as Santa Claus and an elf and rob a Chicago-based children's charity. Willie doesn't find out until he gets to the Windy City that the mastermind behind this plot is his crass, crooked, abusive mother, Sunny (KATHY BATES).

Willie reluctantly agrees to stay, but only after he becomes smitten with the charity's buxom, alcoholic leader, Diane (CHRISTINA HENDRICKS), and her philandering husband, Regent (RYAN HANSEN). Matters are complicated when Thurman shows up, wanting to spend the holidays with Willie. And hot on their trail is a trigger-happy security guard named Dorfman (JEFF SKOWRON) and a sexually adventurous security guard named Gina (JENNY ZIGRINO).

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I started reviewing for ScreenIt.com in 2008. And since that time, I have certainly reviewed my share of heavy-content films. Everything from "Sausage Party" and "Trainwreck" to "Dirty Grandpa" and "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." A few years back, the other movie critics in the press row actually became worried about me during a screening of "Project X," because I was taking notes throughout so feverishly and apparently making sounds of pain and discomfort throughout.

Through it all, whenever any of them would ask me "Are you OK?" or "Do you want me to take notes for you for a few minutes?" I would always answer them, "No. I'm OK. At least it's not 'Bad Santa.'"

Ooof! And then "Bad Santa 2" happened. And the tendency with sequels in this sub-genre is to go dirtier, filthier, crasser, and grosser. Before my recent preview and to the amusement of other fellow reviewers, I actually did hand exercises before the lights went down. I did a few squats just to entertain them. And then I went to work!

"Bad Santa 2" was definitely work. It's not nearly as funny or as clever as the first one, which I think was one of the great dark comedies of the 2000s. The thing about that film that is the hallmark of really all great comedies is -- it had a great story! A drunken, profane con man teams up with a little person to pose as a Santa and an elf to case a Phoenix department store at the holidays, learn its security procedures, and rob it blind Christmas Eve.

The sequel ups the ante, reuniting hard-drinking, hard-living Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) with recently paroled Marcus (Tony Cox) to try and rob $2 million from a Chicago charity. This time around, though, the mastermind behind the caper is Willie's even more profane and crude mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates), who masquerades as Mrs. Claus in collecting Salvation Army-style money from passersby on the street.

While the sequel is indeed inferior, I can't lie. It made me laugh even as I was feverishly taking notes. And I know this is not going to be for most ScreenIt readers. It's almost beyond an R-rating with its profanity and sex content. But if you're judging a film purely on what it is and what it wants to be, "Bad Santa 2" delivers on its mission to be the most offensive, un-PC comedy out there this season.

There is a lot to be said for getting one's cast all on the same page and having them go for broke. These are not just people going through the motions or clearly playing material that embarrasses them, but they're doing it anyway for the paycheck. No, Thornton, Bates, Cox, and newcomer Christina Hendricks (succeeding Lauren Graham) absolutely relish being naughty here.

Surprisingly, though, the most valuable player is Brett Kelly returning as Thurman Merman. He was 8 years old in the first film, and his love for Willie and belief in him as a good man softened the title character and made some of the vilest scenes palatable. Here he's 21, returning to the biz after studying Business in college in real life, and he plays this odd, quirky, incredibly innocent and simple character absolutely note-perfect. Whether it's Thurman having no clue how to lose his virginity or walking the streets of frigid Chicago in December with only short sleeves and no coat because he dropped everything to follow and find Willie before Christmas, he's just so darn endearing.

On the downside, the film suffers mightily without original director Terry Zwigoff. The original screenwriters have been replaced, too, so the film is more jokey and punchline-driven than the first, which actually sprung a lot of its humor from character and situation and not your classic set-up/punchline rhythm exhibited here. And the Bates character is really the only new wrinkle from the first one. It's a good one. But, still, it's been 13 years and there could have been a bit more innovation.

Nevertheless, if you like good bawdy humor, are not easily offended, and are a fan of the first "Bad Santa," this is a worthy follow-up. But just like some Trump voters, I wouldn't be disappointed or surprised if you never 'fessed up to seeing it and giving it your vote. I give it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed November 21, 2016 / Posted November 23, 2016

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