It was 20 years ago that Billy Bob Thornton –the actor with a name that sounds like a front man for a Bakersfield Sound country music band – established his strong credentials as an actor. His work in “Sling Blade” earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor and a win in the best writing category.
Over the Years, Thornton’s done equally good work in projects like “Monster’s Ball” and “Fargo.” But mixed in has been some work that came up a little short. Check out “Armageddon” if you need proof.
In recent years, Thornton has found himself on a path that has featured his best work since “Sling Blade,” including the TV offerings of “Fargo” and “Goliath.” His latest work, “Bad Santa 2,” shows that Thornton has not lost the skill to be the most politically incorrect, spiritually corrupt and painfully obnoxious character while still being able to win over an audience.
It takes an incredible talent to portray both socially repulsive and deceptively personable characters, and Thornton is one of the few actors to pull of this acting magic.
He slips right back into the near waste of skin that is Willie, a multiple-time loser who has finally reached the end of his rope. In this case, it’s the cord on a toaster that’s not enough for him to end his life.
Willie agrees to take on another robbery job with Marcus (Tony Cox) despite the pair ending their last job on a very bitter note. The real mastermind behind the plan to rob a charity is Willie’s mom, Sunny Soke (Kathy Bates). Her black hole of social skills even surpasses the negativity of Willie.
The plan has Willie back in a Santa Claus suit so he can be part of the plot to rob the charity’s safe on Christmas Eve. Putting Willie in a Santa suit is like putting a caveman in a tuxedo. He understands there’s a reason for the wardrobe, but he doesn’t care what it is.
All of the despicable actions coming from Thornton’s character is magnified three times by Cox and Bates. They are equally vile players in this weird crime drama, and they perform the parts to near perfection. Bates is particularly disgusting/compelling as the woman who still regrets having Willie when she was 12.
It’s not just the obvious gross players who will create the laughter. Brett Kelly gives the film a surprising amount of heart as Thurman Merman. His attachment to Willie allows Thornton the most opportunities to show that deep inside the disgusting exterior is an equally disgusting interior. But, it at least lets him reveal some glimmers of humanity left in the character.
Christina Hendricks also adds a nice layer by trying to decide who’s naughty and who’s nice. In this film, everyone is a varied mix.
The script by Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross will make you uncomfortable and embarrassed at your laughter. It’s OK. Think of it as just being pulled into the impressive acting abilities that are getting better and better for Thornton.