The original Bad Santa has become a “cult classic” in the years since its release. Well, it actually was kind of a “cult classic” before it had even left theaters. The early aughts had a lot of movies that felt that way –Death to Smoochy comes to mind- and they were given wide releases, no longer just relegated to art houses and the like. Some weird, interesting, idiosyncratic flicks made it out into the wild in those days, before cineplexes were dominated by franchises that try to have such a broad appeal that they can’t help but be somewhat ephemeral.
I really liked Bad Santa when it first came out. Hell, I even saw it in the theaters. I was totally into the concept from the time I saw the first trailer. An old drunk who poses as a mall Santa. That was pretty much it. I didn’t really care about the plot. I didn’t care about the characters. I just wanted to hear the foul thoughts of an unpleasant, belligerent old man because, in some weird disturbing way that only a teenager feel, it’s what I aspired to be. I mean, not really the content of what was being said, but the lack of care, the apathy, the attitude, that was what was appealing. In the years since I’ve dabbled with the disposition, but, at the end of the day, it was way too exhausting to keep up with. Too many variables and at some point my conscience would catch up with me and I was left feeling terrible. I don’t know, maybe if I had stuck with it I could have overcome the negative feelings. Who knows, I’m still relatively young. I could still grow up to be a miserable piece of shit. Dare to dream, party people…
My wife had never seen it before, so I showed it to her a few months ago and she was definitely not as taken with it as I was in my late teens. It had been awhile since I had seen it as well and I was in total agreeance. It’s a pretty shallow experience and is only funny in the moment. Like, there aren’t any real jokes. There are no set-ups, it’s just a serious of fart joke equivalents; they’re only as funny as they are shocking or if they can catch us off guard. “You ain’t gonna shit right for a week.” is not a joke. It’s a shocking statement that might make you laugh just based on the sheer audacity of someone having said it, and most of the movie is like that. Yeah, there is a plot about a drunk becoming a drunk with a heart of gold through his relationship with a little fat kid and a floozy, but it’s not exactly skillfully crafted. It’s baseline, just enough storytelling. If it wasn’t for Billy Bob Thornton’s admittedly inspired performance, it would probably just be boring. By the end of the movie, the concept has been pretty well beaten into the ground.
Listen, I don’t hate Bad Santa or anything that dramatic, but it is definitely a product of its’ time and hasn’t aged very well. Yeah, I still get a few good guffaws out of it, but I don’t feel the need to revisit it all that often. If I want to watch a mean-spirited, sardonic holiday movie, I’ll just watch Scrooged. A movie that is just as simple, predictable, of its’ time and shallow, except it has some actual jokes and stars Bill Murray.
They’ve been talking about making Bad Santa 2 for almost a decade now and it would seem that that veiled threat has finally come to pass. We should probably do something. Like call the police and report this violent act, this bludgeoning of comedy.
Remember all the “jokes” and devil may care attitude of the original? Welp, prepare yourself for more of that! Racist jokes? Check! Cantankerous old man stuff? Check, motherfucker! Midget shit? Oh, you best believe it, asshole! I didn’t notice any specific callbacks per se, but that kind of tells you something about the original, doesn’t it? It was all concept and no meat or memorable moments. The closest thing the film comes to “memorable” would be “The part when he was drunk, being an asshole to a kid,” and that would pretty much sum it up. Thinking back, there isn’t a lot of specific things that I would point to, and the stuff that is called back to, like the prostitute, had completely drifted from my memory. It was more about tone and less about good characters that you care about. Bad Santa 2 seems to be more of that, a whole lot more of that, except more cartoonish.
The trailer kind of reminded me of the trailer for Dumb and Dumber To, which isn’t just one of the worst sequels ever made, but also one of the worst movies to get a wide release in the past decade or so. They have that flat, boring, almost sitcom-like comedy style lighting, where everything looks artificial and overexposed. It’s a something you see a lot of in mainstream studio comedies these days. What makes it weird in these cases, specifically, is that they were both indie flicks, that looked like “real” movies. They had a kind of gritty, realistic aesthetic to them. Yeah, a lot of silly, crazy shit would happen, but it was all rooted in a recognizable world. The sequels look like cartoon versions of their former selves. They even look to be wearing their own branded Halloween costumes. It makes more sense in Bad Santa 2, to be fair, but it still feels like a cheap imitation of itself. Like everyone is just doing an impression of what they did before. I don’t know, it all just feels off to me.
I’m assuming that the film will be pretty close to the original in terms of “messaging.” You know, “You can’t always choose your family, but you can choose your friends and those friends can be, like, your new family and stuff” type of message. Granted, there’s nothing in this new trailer that explicitly points to that, well, other than Kathy Bates as the main characters mother showing up and the kid being back, but I have an inkling. I’m assuming that because it’s the most obvious thing you could do and, more often than not when over a decade passes since the last one, that’s the type of storytelling you get. Cheap, easy, predictable and boring. The mantra of our age. Even though I don’t think the original holds up all that well, it still had some balls and really went for something different and specific. This new one looks like it could star Kevin Hart. No, that’s not a compliment. I think he’s the worst.
Another thing that makes this sequel seem all the more pointless is that the creative team that put the original together is nowhere to be seen. This sequel has a completely different crew working behind the scenes. The original writers and director have no involvement with the project from what I can see. So even if you were a big fan of the original, the voices that told that story aren’t being represented. The fact that Mark Waters is the director really says all that needs to be said. He’s a journeyman director, whose work could be best described as serviceable. The few times he’s managed to stumble into a hit, like Mean Girls, really had a lot more to do with the writing and a capable, game cast than any directorial flourishes.He’s the guy you call when you want a vanilla, homogenized product.
You know, I hope I’m wrong. It would be awesome if this thing ends up being great, but from where I’m standing, Bad Santa 2 isn’t even going to have the decency to fill our stockings with coal, opting instead to use petrified dog shit. “Man, I bet that dog shit used to be funny,” we’ll say and then be left to ponder the nature of our own existence, as we think of the countlessly more interesting and productive ways we could have spent those 90 minutes. For instance, taking the money spent on a ticket to the film and going to McDonald’s and then proceeding to eat until you pass out.
Well, on the flip side, the silver lining if you will, at least they had the decency to just simply call it Bad Santa 2, and not Badder Santa, Baddest Santa, Bad Santa 2: Even Naughtier, or any other terrible play on words that you might be able to divine. Having said that, I’m sure the Bluray release will carry with it the monicker of Even Naughtier or something equivalent. Who knows how dark this timeline is going to get.