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‘Bad Santa 2’ isn’t hilariously transgressive; it’s just bad, period

November 22, 2016

Sometimes being sophomoric, transgressive and unimaginative isn’t enough. That’s the problem with “Bad Santa 2,” the dismal sequel to the 2003 hit “Bad Santa” that merrily trashed the holiday season.

The three principals are back: Billy Bob Thornton as the drunken, ne’er-do-well Willie Soke, a department-store Santa; Tony Cox as hot-tempered, elfin Marcus; and Brett Kelly as the adult version of chubby, bullied Thurman Merman.

The main addition to the cast provides the movie’s only spark, and that is Kathy Bates as Willie’s down-and-dirty mom. She brings energy, and something approaching real humor, to her ultra-sleazy personality and malicious manipulations of Willie.

That’s about it for the positive side.

For the record, the plot involves a Christmas-time plan by the Sokes, abetted by Marcus, to rob a dubious charity, headed by wealthy sex-pot Diane (Christina Hendricks), who, remarkably, develops the hots for stumblebum Willie. Meanwhile, Marcus puts the moves on libidinous security guard Gina (Jenny Zigrino).

What “Bad Santa 2” is really about, though, is an attempt to tickle your devilish side, and in a day when outrageous comedy is omnipresent, that’s tough to pull off. After a while, the avalanche of crude sex jokes, alcohol humor, trash-talk insults and slapstick starts to work on your nerves.

It’s rote stuff, not nearly as funny as filmmaker Mark Waters and company seem to think. The original writers (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa) are only credited in this sequel for “characters”; Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross get the “written by” credit.

A fall-off in writing is part of the problem, but I think a more important issue is the replacement of Terry Zwigoff (“Crumb”) as director. Zwigoff’s humor is razor-sharp and incisive, qualities missing from “Bad Santa 2.”

He reportedly had a terrible time making the original film and has complained of studio interference. He has been publicly dissed by that film’s producer, Bob Weinstein. Zwigoff wasn’t involved with “Bad Santa 2,” and I hope he knows he dodged a bullet.

Running time: 92 minutes

MPAA rating: R (profanity, graphic nudity, drug use)