Comedy has always been distilled down to the formula of "tragedy plus time." Strangely enough, if you add too much time to a comedy, it looks like you wind up going straight back to tragedy. Certainly nothing is more tragic than the shambling corpse of a franchise/film you loved from the past, being resurrected for a severely underwhelming rehash/refresh in our modern era.
Bad Santa 2 is the most recent bomb of that caliber, but the ghosts of such films as Son of The Mask, both Dumb & Dumber follow-ups and the recent announcement of a sequel to Wedding Crashers all converge on this weekend's bomb of a follow-up. Which raises the question: Why are comedy sequels so damned hard to make work? Well, we're not ones to shy away from such questions, so we're going to try and take on the big reasons we feel that comedy sequels, for the most part, bite the big one.
So let's start out on the surface and look at the big problem with all of the films mentioned above. All of the franchises mentioned in the intro have, at the very least, nine years between the initial installment and the follow-up/cash grab. With more narratively driven and dramatic works, a wait like that might be easier to handle than that of a comedy film. But with a comedy movie, there are some key factors that require a quicker turn-around time than most other films. One such reason is due to the fact that humor, like it or not, tends to have an expiration date.
Case in point: if you were to tell a joke from Deadpool to your friends this weekend, they'd still think it was pretty funny. However, unless it becomes a seriously impacting favorite of fans all over, that same joke is probably going to become stale by mid-next year, tops. The reason being that the public's tastes in what's funny and what isn't change over time. Think of it as a game of one-upmanship, with the acts that follow trying to vault over the line of funny the film before it set up. While the kids loved Napoleon Dynamite and made "Vote For Pedro" a slogan of its time, today its effect is more of a niche appeal to those scattered die hard fans.
Not only do comedy movies need to up the ante when it comes to the laughs, they need to keep in mind the marketability of their leads. In the case of Bad Santa 2, the problem lies more in the fact that Billy Bob Thornton is pretty much being paid to do exactly the same damned thing he did in Bad Santa, only in a new town and with new faces to help or hinder him. So in that case, upping the ante was the major reason why that film failed, besides so much time passing that allowed for fans to forget the finer points of the first film's existence.
However, in the case of the proposed Wedding Crashers 2, the marketability factor seems to be the bigger problem. Both Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are at different points in their careers, neither of which sees them poised to become comedy superstars yet again. Come to think of it, Wilson's in double trouble with this factor, as another Shanghai Noon sequel seems to be ignoring the fact that Wilson has been a repeat offender of this rule, as Zoolander 2 and even Little Fockers, has proven that Wilson is usually better when the material is fresh.
Which brings us to the royal edict of comedy films: you don't always need a sequel. Comedy works because it's fast, it's smart and it's unexpected -- all of the things sequels usually tend to be the antithesis of. The thrill of the unknown is gone, and the temptation to go bigger/harder with the jokes from the previous film is always there. Making a sequel to a comedy gives into one of the most dirty, human impulses of all: stretching a joke that everyone in the room loved in order to stay at the center of the attention. You can sequelize a comic book film, and possibly a drama, but comedies are harder beasts to tame for multiple outings when the key ingredient to a comedy is its comedic premise.
Ultimately, Bad Santa 2 is a victim of a curse that has befallen plenty of beloved properties, both comedic and dramatic. However, it's comedies that have a greater chance of succumbing to the problems of subpar sequels, and if anything should be learned by this weekend's dramatic failure, it's that going back to the well sometimes means the water is going to be a bit dirtier the second time around.