I lied my way into a Bad Santa screening, which feels very appropriate given its amoral hero. I was still in grad school at the time, but I was already writing film reviews online, which would have excluded me from attending any sort of test screening of the kind I saw a guy recruiting audience members for outside a Manhattan movie theater in 2003. The recruiter handing out invitations looked me up and down and asked “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a student,” I said. Which was true.

“Studying what?”

“History,” I replied. That was not true, and thank God he didn’t ask what kind of history because I definitely would not have been prepared to tell him.

On the Bad Santa scale of misdeeds, this is pretty low. Billy Bob Thornton’s title character is a cruel Santa by day, and a safe cracking alcoholic by night. In the first film, directed by Terry Zwigoff, he and his assistant Marcus (Tony Cox) masquerade as a mall Santa and his elf so they can steal from department stores after hours. Thornton’s Willie Soke seems beyond saving, but when he shacks up with a gullible kid (Brett Kelly) and his senile granny (Cloris Leachman), he begins to make a few tentative steps toward redemption.

It’s a pretty miraculous movie; tough yet sweet, dark yet funny, and it even finds a plausible arc for Willie without selling out his values as a scuzzy jerk. A full decade later, after years of Thornton teasing the movie, Bad Santa 2 finally arrives this fall. Hopefully I do not have to lie my way into seeing it. Today, its distributor just unveiled a batch of first images, seen above, and this teaser poster:


And here’s the movie’s full synopsis:

Bad Santa 2 returns Academy Award®-winner Billy Bob Thornton to the screen as America's favorite anti-hero, Willie Soke. Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox), to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is 'the kid' - chubby and cheery Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), a 250-pound ray of sunshine who brings out Willie’s sliver of humanity.

Mommy issues arise when the pair are joined by Academy Award®, Golden Globe and Emmy-winner Kathy Bates, as Willie's horror story of a mother, Sunny Soke. A super butch super bitch, Sunny raises the bar for the gang's ambitions, while somehow lowering the standards of criminal behavior. Willie is further burdened by lusting after the curvaceous and prim Diane, played by Emmy Award-nominee Christina Hendricks, the charity director with a heart of gold and libido of steel.

It’s a great surprise to see that Brett Kelly, who was so great as the clueless Thurman in the original movie, is also back along with Thornton and Cox. He was such a vital part of the chemistry of the first movie, and I never would have expected to see him here. Bates and Hendricks are awesome additions as well. I hope Hendricks gets to play as filthy and disgusting as Thornton. That would only be fair.

Zwigoff did not return for the sequel, but his replacement, Mark Waters, directed movies like Mean Girls and Just Like Heaven, and he’s no slouch either. Bad Santa 2 opens in theaters on November 23, 2016.

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