Bad Santa 2

A peculiar nativity scene

It’s a delicate art, making a film that offends and entertains in equal measure, and “Bad Santa 2” botches it. Where its vulgar 2003 predecessor – with Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic, lascivious, safe-cracking department-store Santa – was an enjoyably tart morsel of bittersweet candy, the sequel is only able to duplicate the darkness and raunchiness, not the giddy heights of hilarity.

This time, the perpetually suicidal Willie Soke (Thornton) and elfin partner Marcus (Tony Cox) plan to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve, aided by Willie’s reprobate mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates, who is seven years older than Thornton but a strong addition to the team). The charity is run by a well-meaning, nondescript pretty lady (Christina Hendricks) whose smug husband (Ryan Hansen) is embezzling from it. (In other words, don’t worry, the charity our heroes are stealing from is already corrupt.) Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), the dumb fat kid who thought Willie was the real Santa, is back too, now 21 years old but still amusingly stupid.

But gone are the original director and writers, replaced by Mark Waters (who’s gone steadily downhill since “Mean Girls”) and scribes Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross (“Whip It”). The plot is threadbare; they’re really just killing time till Christmas Eve. Everything else – including a thread where a security guard (Jenny Zigrino) must be seduced in order to steal her keys – is a wheel-spinning tangent. How many times can we be expected to laugh at the sight of a woman who would never, ever have sex with scum like Willie having sex with Willie? Though the ribald dialogue offers moments of perverse pleasure, delivered with gusto by Thornton, Bates, and Kelly (Cox is a dud), they’re always just moments, never entire scenes, and the flat, uninspired screenplay smells of desperation. And not the good kind.

C+ (1 hr., 31 min.; R, pervasive harsh profanity and sexual vulgarity, some strong sexual situations.)