‘Bad Santa 2’: Why being bad is in (and funny)

Release of belated sequel is the latest in a long line of nihilistic comedies (mis) using the B-word

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The release of Bad Santa 2 could not come at a better time. As a society, we have finally reached peak badness. Since the release of the original Bad Santa, the cinema has been littered with movies that are content to do away with story, character development or intrigue merely because they have such a simplistic title convention (find a job that requires upstanding behaviour and circumvent that by throwing the word “bad” in front of it.). There’s so much moral turpitude in our movies lately that a writer more concerned with coining phrases and starting trend pieces with easy catchphrases (like a desperate, profusely sweating version of me in three years) might choose to call the last six years the Bad Decade — a period of time in which American culture succumbed to the sort of transgressive, narcissistic, nihilistic behaviour that we never used to tolerate in our Santas, our teachers, our mums, our lieutenants, our grandpas or, well, our presidents. That Hollywood did not greenlight a film called Bad President before Donald Trump’s recent electoral victory might be the greatest missed opportunity in film history. Instead of getting Bad President: The Movie, we’re going to have to live it for the next four years.

In order to understand how we got here, we must look back at where we started. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of the films of the Bad Decade (honestly, it almost kinda works, doesn’t it?) and the film that started it all back in 2003.

Bad Santa

One might argue that the Bad News Bears series was the true originator of the “bad” naming convention (and might have a leg to stand on as Bad Santa led to both the writers and star Billy Bob Thornton to remake the first film), but this is the movie that truly cemented the trope for modern audiences. Thornton plays titular Santa Willie Stokes. He drinks, he smokes, he curses, he steals from people, and he makes off-colour sexual jokes. As you might have guessed, he is not your father’s Santa Claus. The late Bernie Mac, the also late John Ritter and the not-late Gilmore Girls actor Lauren Graham co-star. Bad Santa is most notable for being directed by Terry Zwigoff, who swore off studio filmmaking after this and is conspicuously absent from the creative brain trust of this 13-years-later cash grab.

It seems to me that the producers of Bad Santa 2 are banking on audiences getting nostalgic for the weekend; they grabbed the first Bad Santa from the bottom of the discount bin at Best Buy, turned it on, and took eight bong rips while the DVD menu played. Boy, do I have fond memories of that DVD menu.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Speaking of cash grabs, Werner Herzog’s foray in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana has absolutely no relationship to the original film Bad Lieutenant that I hesitate to call it a sequel or even a remake. It’s a totally unrelated work about a crooked cop that the producers slapped a pre-existing brand on to. It might only be memorable for star Nicolas Cage’s peculiar relationship with iguanas.

Bad Teacher

At last, women can be bad too! It was a true levelling of the playing field for the genders, as Cameron Diaz gets to portray a schoolteacher whose lone career goal is saving enough money to purchase breast implants. Other than the drinking and smoking weed at work, what’s so bad about her then? The bad teacher isn’t up to the level of Willie Stokes or the bad lieutenant. She doesn’t hallucinate, talk to lizards or engage in felonious behaviour. At most, maybe she should be fired and kept away from the education trade. She’s bad at her job, but is she truly bad?

Bad Grandpa

Even the elderly can be bad, as Johnny Knoxville showed us in Bad Grandpa (or Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, if you want to be precise). Knoxville’s character, Irving Zisman, is so bad and so perpetually aroused that he attempts to put his genitals inside a vending machine after his wife dies early in the film. You might complain that this is not at all recognisable human behaviour and is the sort of thing that gets you committed to a mental health facility, but Irving Zisman isn’t crazy. He’s merely bad and therefore, anything he does is automatically charming within the context of this film. This is not to be confused with the similarly titled Dirty Grandpa, though the premises of both films are almost indistinguishable. In both cases, a horny old man’s wife dies and he’s compelled to go on a road trip with his grandson in which he desperately tries to have sex with a younger woman. The only real difference is that Robert DeNiro doesn’t have to wear make-up to look old.

Bad Ass

You did not see this B-movie starring Danny Trejo, but if you did, you’d probably end up disappointed that the film is not about a very naughty backside that bucks the system and tells it like it is. From the poster and the synopsis describing a story of a Vietnam vet out for revenge, this appears to be a rather shoddy rip-off of 70s exploitation classic Walking Tall. I also must say that this was a great missed opportunity to employ the following tagline on the poster: R “This summer ... there’s one [expletive] that just ... won’t ... quit. Pucker up, America. Danny Trejo is Bad Ass.”

Bad Moms

The poster for Bad Moms takes a far more respectable route for its tagline, which reads “party like a mother”. This is another case of false advertising, as no one falls asleep at 8.30 next to a half-finished bottle of white wine. Bad Moms doesn’t quite live up to the bad moniker. Their behaviour might be questionable (binge drinking, a bit of petty fraud, eating at Arby’s) but hardly resembles the sort of chicanery enjoyed by the Bad Santa, the Bad Lieutenant, or even the Bad President. Until a woman can smoke meth out of a soda can and/or vomit on a priest in Bad Moms 2, the Bad Glass Ceiling remains intact.

Don’t miss it

Bad Santa 2 releases in the UAE on December 1.

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