Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 20th

Bad Santa 2 (2016)

When “Bad Santa” was released in 2003, it became an unexpected hit. Audiences loved the raunchy humor but many critics responded to the movie's battered heart. It was the filthy holiday comedy people were apparently clamoring for. Considering the box office success, talks of a sequel began soon afterwards. I can't imagine Terry Zwigoff was interested and, after a while, it seemed like a follow-up would never be made. And it's not like “Bad Santa” was crying up for a part two anyway. Yet in 2015, thirteen years after the original, news broke that Billy Bob Thornton had signed on for “Bad Santa 2.” The sequel came out a year later to highly negative reviews and mediocre box office. Still, I enjoy the first one enough to wonder if the second one was worth seeing.

In the decade-plus since the original film, William Soke's life has not improved any. The once Santa, part-time thief, and full-time fuck-up squandered every good thing he was left with last time. Only Thurman, who has grown from a weird kid to a strange teenager, hasn't given up on him. After a failed suicide attempt, Willie receives a phone call from Marcus, his former partner who tried to kill him last time they met. The once elf talks him into a scheme to rip off a charity in Chicago. Upon arriving, Willie discovers his mother is the mastermind behind the heist. Even worst, he has to don the Santa suit again. Thurman follows along and Willie once again feels his blackened heart thawing.

I usually hate it when a sequel resets after the original, undoing all the progress the characters have made. Willie Soke remaining a miserable bastard, even after the transformative events of the original, seems in-character though. Someone like that isn't going to stop making mistakes. So “Bad Santa 2” has a license to be as vulgar, bleak, and hateful as the original. The dialogue remains utterly filthy. There's multiple crude sex acts, different bodily fluids, violence, booze, and nothing but bad behavior. Diminishing returns apply but the script's profanity-laden dialogue is still frequently amusing. As in the first, the story bends wildly so that normal people are willing to put up with an absolute scoundrel like Willie. This is taken to purposely absurd heights, when a female security guard's sexual interests line up perfectly with Willie's personality.

“Bad Santa 2” does repeat many of the first's greatest hits. There's still a scene of Willie responding with curses and bafflement when kids sit on his laps. Once again, he somehow seduces a beautiful woman – Christina Hendricks this time – and gets her to sexually degrade herself in a festive setting. Finally, Thurman somehow sees through Willie's combative exterior and reaches his heart. Somehow, that is still weirdly touching. Especially in a moment when the two end up in a laundromat, Willie actually showing some moral character. When contrasted with Willie's criminal mother, this builds towards a decent theme about the family we're born with and the family we choose. And Thurman is still such a bizarre character that watching the (vulgar but otherwise normal) characters react to him is still worth a laugh or two.

The main reason these jokes work at all may be because the cast remains so committed to the material. Billy Bob Thornton remains absolutely fearless in playing a deplorable son-of-a-bitch. Despite Willie Soke being one of the most despicable protagonist ever put to film, Thornton still manages to make the pathetic bastard oddly likable. Tony Cox is Thornton's equal in his ability to spit profane dialogue with such vigor. Kathy Bates, who is only seven years older than Thornton, seems especially game. She never quite gets at the same inner heartbreak Thornton brings to Willie but she certainly approaches the uncouth material with gusto. (Bates and Thornton are not the only Oscar winners to debase themselves here. Octavia Spencer has a small role as a prostitute.) Christina Hendricks definitely deserves better than this but there is a naughty thrill in seeing one of our era's defining sex symbols in such a lascivious role.

“Bad Santa 2” is obviously not as good as the first one, largely do to being so derivative. It does not have as much heart behind its foul-mouthed antics. While the original is an anti-good cheer holiday cult classic, the sequel is a fairly by-the-numbers affair. Yet the film still made me laugh plenty of times, so I'd say it succeeds as a comedy. [7/10]

Psych: Gus' Dad May Have Killed an Old Guy

After watching an episode of “Monk” the other day, it only seems right that I include some “Psych” in this year's Christmas marathon as well. The two shows aired together for years and, as both are about eccentric detectives, largely defined the USA Network's “Characters Welcomed” brand. It was a much sillier show than “Monk,” as the characters were broader and goofier, often exploding into madcap comedic episodes. Yet that wasn't a complaint, as “Psych” had a strong cast, of both actors and characters, to root even the wilder antics in honest personality. The show had consistently awesome Halloween episodes but also touched on Christmas a few times too. The first of which was “Gus' Dad May Have Killed an Old Guy.”

As Christmas approaches Santa Barbara, families are coming together. Shawn and his dad join Gus' family for dinner. That's when Shawn learns that Gus' parents have always considered him a bad influence. The same day, it's discovered that their next door neighbor – mean old man Mr. Fuller – has died mysteriously. Though initially assumed to be a suicide, it's quickly discovered that Fuller was clobbered to death with a hammer that belonged to Gus' dad. While Gus assures everyone of his dad's innocence, Shawn tries to uncover the real killer using his fake-psychic powers of deduction.

The main appeal of “Psych” was the adorable friendship between Shawn and Gus. The two busts each other's chops constantly but are the truest of bros. Their interaction here includes a hilarious reenactment of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which escalates fantastically, and Gus getting into Shawn's personal space as he attempts to investigate. One of the main thrusts of this episode is Shawn's shock at learning Gus' parents don't approve of him. Helping this plot point go down is the stellar guest casts as Gus' parents. Ernie Hudson and Phylicia Rashad perfectly balance being overbearing and loving.

While the murder mystery is mildly amusing, including Shawn's typically energetic breakdown of how it happened, what I really liked about this episode is how it touched on different family traditions. Shawn and his dad, played by a perfectly crotchety Corbin Bernsen, try to guess what each other's gifts are before opening them. Shawn claims not to be fond of this tradition but clearly enjoys it. The B-plot involves Lassiter, the SBPD's hard-ass and Shawn's frequent foil, inviting himself to (Shawn's love interest) Juliet's family gathering. Her Scottish family have a number of traditions, which Lassiter attempts to force himself into. The most amusing of which is the way he deconstructs the kid's assemble of a Nativity scene.

Though the show takes place in sunny California, “Gus' Dad May Have Killed an Old Guy” does pile on the Christmas atmosphere. Decorations are present throughout. There's a big family dinner, of course. The episode begins with Shawn passing gifts around the police station. There's a highly amusing chase scene set to a rock version of “Jingle Bells.” They even put a Christmas-y spin on the opening credits and theme song.  In other words, it's a good episode and fits in with the holiday season nicely. [7/10]

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