I’m pretty sure we were the first ones to bring you the news that Billy Bob Thornton was in negotiations with Dimension to reprise his role as the best worst Santa ever, Willie “Tugboat” Stokes, in a “Bad Santa 2” when we spoke to him about his Willie Nelson documentary “The King of Luck” at South by Southwest 2011. Today The Los Angeles Times reported that the film is inching closer to fruition — or make that fruitions, with the development of not one but two different scripts.
“The companies [Miramax and Dimension] are engaging in the unusual move of commissioning two different writers, with the idea of choosing between the scripts or even using one script for ‘Bad Santa 2’ and the other script for a third film. (The two writers do know about each other.) A spokeswoman for Dimension Films confirmed the hires and the plans. The movie is being produced by Geyer Koskini, Thornton’s manager who produced the original and has been developing the sequel for several years.”
The Times reports the two writers are Johnny Rosenthal and John Phillips, young Hollywood scribes without any produced films to their names. I’ve heard of studios farming out marketing to more than one company — inviting multiple trailer houses to compete for the right to make the coming attractions for a major film and then picking the concept they like best, for example — but not script writing. That’s a new one for me.
I’m a huge “Bad Santa” fan; I was, frankly, a little annoyed when indieWIRE conducted a poll to find the best indie comedy of the last 15 years and “Bad Santa” didn’t even make the cut (you’re telling me “Slums of Beverly Hills” is a better indie comedy than “Bad Santa?” Away with you and your madness, indieWIRE!). I’d love to see Thornton back in the role of Willie, a role he should have been nominated for an Academy Award for. But having just rewatched all three versions of “Bad Santa” for my biweekly director’s cut column, I’m a little concerned about the practicalities of a sequel. Realistically — SPOILERS coming for “Bad Santa” — he can’t really even be a mall Santa anymore, and his life was kind of on the rebound at the end of the film. The only way to really recapture the original “Santa”‘s sublime dark humor would be to have Willie fall off the wagon and hit an even lower rock bottom than the rock bottom he hit the first time around. Which, come to think of it, might actually be kind of fun.
It could also be great to see Thurman — a.k.a. the innocent kid who befriends Thornton’s Santa — as a teenager, fully seduced to the dark side of booze and women by the corrosive parental influence of Willy. The two of them competing for the affections of a woman is another idea that could have some potential. Basically it needs to be squalid and sordid and disgusting. Anything less would be a missed opportunity.
We should also note that while Thornton is obviously very interested in reprising his role, according to The Times the movie is currently moving ahead without the participation of the Coen Brothers, the executive producers and developers of the original idea for “Bad Santa,” or the first screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, or director Terry Zwigoff. Those were some prodigious creative forces. Filling their big red Santa boots will not be easy.