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Like the 2003 original, the comedy "Bad Santa 2" is a foul-mouthed and mean-spirited Christmas tale — but, unlike the original, it loses its nerve in the final reel with a stab at unearned redemption.

Alcoholic misanthrope Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is lured back into his holiday criminal antics by his little-person ex-partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), to bust the safe of a charity on Christmas Eve. Willie doesn't like the idea, and he likes it even less when he learns Marcus' inside connection is Willie's ex-felon mom, Sunny (Kathy Bates), a crusty old broad whom Willie is willing to double-cross as soon as the job is over.

Willie finds his interest in crime softening when he meets the charity's kind-hearted co-founder, Diane (Christina Hendricks), and when he's reunited with now-adult Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), the clueless kid who attached himself to Willie in the first movie and hasn't let go since.

Director Mark Waters ("Mean Girls," "Vampire Academy") mines a fair amount of rude humor from the script by first-timer Johnny Rosenthal and veteran Shauna Cross ('Whip It"), as Thornton, Cox and Bates battle for who can be the most irascible. But the story goes soft at the end, channeling the Christmas sappiness the first movie so ruthlessly mocked.

'Bad Santa 2'

Opening Wednesday, Nov. 23, at theaters everywhere; rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity; 92 minutes.