Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Banks, Lindsay Sloane
Small role: Rob Huebel
Director: Sean Anders
Screenplay: Sean Anders, John Morris
Review published November 26, 2014
Nick (Bateman, This is Where I Leave You), Kurt (Sudeikis, We're the Millers), and Dale (Day, The LEGO Movie) are back, having survived their own horrible bosses from the first film, undertaking a venture that would make themselves the bosses, with the prototype of a new kind of showerhead that gives you the soap and the water from the same device -- the Shower Buddy. A billionaire entrepreneur named Bert Hanson (Waltz, The Zero Theorem) sees promise in the product and puts in an order of 100,000 units, to which the trio set about eagerly putting the manufacturing wheels in motion. However, they are double crossed by a reneging Hanson, who plans to buy their product for pennies on the dollar after they go bankrupt. Desperate for a way out of taking a half-million dollar bath, they concoct a scheme to kidnap and ransom Bert's mischievous son, Rex (Pine, Stretch), for their money back. But with three bumbling buffoons calling the shots, plans will go awry in the worst ways possible.
Bateman, Sudeikis and Day continue their approach to "Three Stooges" territory in this raunchy farce that relies, perhaps a bit too much, on foul-mouthed humor in order to try to gin up some easy laughs. Not that there aren't clever moments, as there are a handful of choice belly laughs mixed in, but this is definitely a step down in story and humor value from the surprise hit that was the first Horrible Bosses.
We have a new creative team at the helm in director Sean Anders and co-writer John Morris (co-screenwriters for Dumb and Dumber To), who make the mistake of relying too much on a tired and uninteresting plot to try to springboard laughs from. Plus, the balance of the characters feels off, replaced by one-note caricatures of their former selves. Nick is the cranky skeptic, Kurt is the gullible horndog, and Dale is the simpering ignoramus, and every scene merely finds a way for each to exploit that trait for a predictable laugh. The original film merely had these men bad at crime, but in this entry, they're pretty much inept at everything, so it does feel like we're dealing with different characters, even if we still like the performers inhabiting the roles.
While I do find some of the jokes and scenes to be very funny stuff, almost enough to border on recommending the film for fans of the first, I'm ultimately going to err on the side that Horrible Bosses 2 is too much of a misfire to be a worthy successor. First, many of the laughs come before the kidnapping plotline sets in to take a lot of the oxygen out of the comedy to discuss the elaborate plans. When humor is injected in the main drawing-room setup that includes a misspelled word and the use of a permanent marker on the dry-erase board, you can smell the desperation for laughs where none might be had from the story itself.
Second, almost all of the laughs come from the interplay of the main trio, while the supporting characters, though energetic, fail to generate requisite LOLs. Recurring roles are shoehorned in for Jennifer Aniston (Life of Crime), Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Kevin Spacey (Casino Jack), but none of them are nearly as fun or as funny as they had been in the first film. Aniston in particular, so appealing in the 2011 entry, is a net negative here, far more crude and raunchy than her character had ever been in the past, basically a walking hard-on that is looking for the most disgusting, depraved sex out there at any cost with anyone and everyone. It's a pathetic characterization extension that virtually kills the otherwise innocuous vibe and tone of the ribald comedy to near-deplorable depths of disheartening depravity for laughs that don't deliver.
Of the newly introduced cast members, Chris Pine goes all in on a fun role, but that doesn't really make him funny enough to make for memorable gags. And Christoph Waltz plays the same kind of smarmy, smug adversary we've come to expect, but he's not fun or interesting to watch in the slightest, feeling more like a placeholder heavy than in someone who would be worth following in a film of his own, which is the true test of a worthy villain.
As the film goes more frantic in plot, it also grows more frantic in trying to find laughs. As a result of the jarring tonal shift from sophomoric slapstick to chase thriller, there's just not enough good ways to inject choice comedy amid the action, leaving the entire production feeling overlong, overwrought, and overly futile. Comedic chemistry is hard to generate in one film, and few comedy sequels come close to living up to their original entry in quality, as the tendency is to try to go bigger, funnier, and bolder, which causes a major imbalance to the delicateness of the good humor generated. Horrible Bosses 2 feels like it is made by people who know they don't have the laughs necessary, and we can see their sweat all too well as they go louder, cruder, and more obnoxious in pursuit of trying to make us guffaw every minute.
As for its title, now that our hapless trio no longer have bosses, we may have to stop continuing to refer to this franchise as such and just call it what it is fast becoming: Horrible.
©2014 Vince Leo