In the years since “Bad Santa” was released in 2003, it’s become something of a holiday season anarcho-classic and alternate required viewing to off-set the occasionally cloying feel-goodery of bona fide golden oldies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” It’s also one of the few legitimate bright spots in the wizened and dull sub-genre of the “Christmas movie” that’s been particularly bankrupt of late (to wit: “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Fred Claus,” “Four Christmases,” Billy Bob Thornton’s own “Ice Harvest,” etc) which tend to be lazily executed and have an extremely short cultural shelf life. Talk of a sequel has been bandied about for years but only recently did “Bad Santa 2” seem to gain any traction, first with star Thornton announcing he’d be up for it and now, as The LA Times reports, the hiring of two writers, Johnny Rosenthal and John Phillips who, somewhat bizarrely, will write separate and competing drafts of the same film. The ‘winning’ script will move forward into production for a mooted Christmas 2012 release date, with the possibility of material in the other script being folded into another potential sequel.
While it would probably pay to stay cautiously optimistic on this one — it was one of several projects in raft of sequels The Weinstein Company announced back in December of last year that also included the dubious prospect of “Shakespeare in Love 2” and a second hit of “Rounders” – Dimension Films, who are overseeing the production, do at least seem to be putting in a modicum of effort in what could otherwise have been a cynical and calculated cash-grab. For sure, both writers are untested and have yet to have a work produced, although Phillips’ “Dirty Grandpa” about a randy “sexually aggressive” senior citizen seems fairly close to the mark and Rosenthal’s “Iron Jack” sold for a hefty price back in 2009.
Thornton himself, whose career had become a little aimless and unsuccessful until he recently began work directing “Jayne Mansfield’s Car,” would probably relish the opportunity to get back into the red and white duds which gave his career a new lease of life eight years ago, as the booze-swillin’ potty-mouthed misanthrope Willie T. Stokes who we last saw becoming a “sensitivity trainer” for the police department. But the original film’s director, Terry Zwigoff, one of the most talented directors of his generation, who’s seemingly been banished to director jail since the mediocre reception of “Art School Confidential,” does not look to be returning and neither will the film’s original writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who, having enjoyed artistic if not commercial success after helming “I Love You Phillip Morris,” have the Steve Carrell comedy “Crazy Stupid Love” in the can for release at the end of the month.
In addition, two of the original stars of “Bad Santa,” John Ritter and Bernie Mac, have since passed away and another (Brett Kelly as “Thurman Merman”) has grown up. The premise of the first film – a wily short-con grifter invades a small-town mall and masquerades as Kris Kringle to fleece the place dry on Christmas Eve – is at least fairly malleable, not predicated on cheap gimmicks to the same degree as, say, the “Big Momma’s House” movies which have somehow managed to luck themselves into a franchise.
It’s notoriously hard to make a follow-up to a beloved comedy, and the streets are paved with the corpses of the films that tried (“Mean Girls 2,” “Son of the Mask,” and “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” and, for that matter, “Airplane II: The Sequel” and “Caddyshack II”), so we’ll reserve judgment until more details are announced. So while you might not want to start doing cartwheels just yet, nor understand quite why this unorthodox approach to the screenplay is going ahead, take some solace in the fact that if this is going to be a badly executed sequel to a film thousands of people hold in rather in high regard, it’ll probably at least be one that’s a profane black comedy instead of, you know, Vince Vaughn falling over on multiple occasions.