Bad Santa 2
Directed by Mark Waters
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christina Hendricks
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity
1 hr. 32 min.

If you regularly deck your halls with boughs of holly, and tell tales of comfort and joy, gird your jingle bells: He’s back. I suppose it took 13 years for the public to be ready for Bad Santa 2, because the original wasn’t exactly a holiday with Michael Bublé and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Choir, singing fireside carols and drinking cocoa.

This twisted, ribald, foul sequel is, like the 2003 movie, a remedy for all the retail workers who’ve had enough of the schmaltz wafting from the speakers, the oppressive crowds, screaming kids and rude customers. It’s for the usually good-natured person with a wicked sense of humor, not inclined toward the often maudlin, morose aspects of our holiday celebration in America. If you’ve made the first Bad Santa a holiday viewing staple for its utter rudeness and overriding crudeness, you’ll like the sequel. If this were a race, though, it would finish a few yards behind the first film.

Billy Bob Thornton is back as Willie Soke (yes, he has a last name, though we don’t know how he can even recall it), the alcoholic, profane, self-loathing, misanthropic Santa, swilling booze, tossing his cookies, ogling all things gluteal and female and hurling four-letter barbs in every direction.

He’s stunned by the arrival of a Sunny Soke, a long-lost relative (Kathy Bates), who brings with her Willie’s equally long-lost and previously incarcerated criminal cohort Marcus (Tony Cox, returning from the original cast). Paroled, Marcus has dumped his wife and seeks forgiveness for his near-murderous antics in the original movie.

For Bad Santa 2, the target of this miscreant trio’s greed is not department stores, but a holiday charity in Chicago, run by Diane Hastings and her husband. Full-figured Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) is Diane, leavening the dirty words with her physical beauty, at the very least, and bringing out even more ribaldry than one would think Willie capable of — and he is, assuredly, capable of plenty.

Also returning is “the Kid,” Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman, the naïve chubster of the first Bad Santa, now grown (he added 25 pounds for the role), yet just as clueless and endearing as he was as a child. It is Thurman’s undying, guileless quest for Willie’s affection that conveys the type of seasonal warmth found in most holiday offerings. The Kid adds sort of a redeeming presence to satisfy those who don’t like naughty with their nice at this time of the year.

As it is, unless you do appreciate a lot of spice with your sugar, you’ll find Bad Santa 2 just more of the same. Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross are two of four writers wholaced this sequel with shockingly funny rejoinders. Director Mark Waters, the master behind Freaky Friday and Mean Girls (he directed Lindsay Lohan twice!), will not get the credit he’s due because, after all, it is Bad Santa’s second time around. That’s the danger of sequels: The goal is building a franchise; the result, sometimes, is a product that languishes in the shadow of the original.

Missing, of course, are John Ritter and Bernie Mac, both having passed away since the first movie. In their stead, Kathy Bates is hilariously antisocial. It’s enough if, with wall-to-wall mistletoe and holly, the little stinker in you could use a break from the mawkish and the cloying, or the sickening and the saccharine. One thing is very true of Bad Santa 2: It is funny in a most vile way, yet doesn’t cast a jaundiced eye toward the spirit of the season itself. But . . . if you’ve got an Aunt Ethel who watches It’s a Wonderful Life five times before Christmas, leave her at home, nice and warm, with a Perry Como album.