Horrible Bosses 2 is another fun time with the crazy trio we met in the first film – only it’s a party that definitely feels exhausted by the end.
In Horrible Bosses 2 we catch up with Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day), after they have been “liberated” from the oppressive rule of their respectively horrible bosses and gone into business for themselves. After receiving a big purchase order for their new invention, ‘The Shower Buddy’, the boys seemed poised for big success; however, when ruthless businessman Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz) screws them on the deal, the boys’ dreams quickly turn into a financial nightmare.
Angry, facing ruin, the guys see one way out of their predicament: another stint as amateur crooks bent on a big scheme. This time, instead of murder, they plot to kidnap Hanson’s spoiled brat son, Rex (Chris Pine). Problem is, Rex is just as shady as his dad, and soon turns the tables on the whole kidnapping scheme with a fiendish plot of his own.
Comedy sequels have been facing a bad stigma ever since The Hangover 2: audiences are understandably jaded that a second chapter is going to rehash much of the exact same humor and gags as the first film. And while a movie like 22 Jump Street can mine great winking meta-minded fun out of reheating leftovers, Horrible Bosses 2 unfortunately lands closer to the camp of unimaginative (albeit still fun) ‘been there, done that’ comedy sequels.
Part 2 gets new directorial vision, with writer/director Sean Anders stepping in for Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief). As a screenwriter, Anders has a varied comedy resume, with some strong original works (She’s Out of My League, We’re the Millers, Hot Tub Time Machine) and some lackluster sequels or adaptations of other people’s work (Dumb and Dumber To, Mr. Poppers Penguins). As a director, Anders’ work on films like Sex Drive and That’s My Boy has been poor example of his comedic vision; Horrible Bosses 2 may be his strongest film yet (relatively speaking), but like his other efforts, it’s hard to judge if the best stuff is flowing from the director or his comedic star(s).
Cinematically speaking, the sequel feels like a looser collection of episodic scenes (with the exception of one nicely-done fantasy sequence), putting much more reliance on the established charm of the lead trio and their interactions. Instead of working hard to create the comedy, it feels like director and cast (including returning players like Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey) are confident that the rapport between them will be enough to carry things. While that’s true to an extent, Horrible Bosses 2 does carry that Ocean’s 12 mark of a cast that’s almost too comfortable with one another to put forth the necessary renewed effort and energy.
With looser reins on things, the antics often push too far, to the point that the characters cross from funny and relatable to cartoonishly dumb or downright aggravating. While the movie tries to sometimes make good use of its dumbed-down protagonists, the depiction of Nick, Kurt and Dale in this installment is far away from the average-Joes trying (and hilariously failing) to execute the ultimate recession-era fantasy. Overall, the ‘Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest’ schtick is not a welcome change of pace.
On the other hand, the actual crime narrative by Anders and John Morris (writers of We’re the Millers) – with story ideas by Horrible Bosses writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein – actually evolves the premise of the series in a smart and (semi-)logical way. Putting the trio in the position of being potential horrible bosses (if they let their company fail), while battling an evil big boss (Waltz) is actually an intriguing twist. Of course, the movie much prefers to indulge in scenes with small payoffs, or gross-out gags, rather than the thematic angle to ground it all. One doesn’t need Oscar material from a film like this, but there was a story that could’ve been told with more meaning.
The cast is, as stated, firing on all cylinders – almost too smoothly. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day could trade banter for days – and unfortunately in some scenes it feels as though they have been. It’s still funny, just not as fresh, and the sequel overuses their banter to point of making it sound routine. Aniston, Spacey and especially Jamie Foxx are still in with both feet; but again, even with their respective characters turned up a notch there’s little that’s fresh in what we’re seeing.
New additions vary in effectiveness. Christoph Waltz and (in particular) Chris Pine are great picks to fill the antagonist slots. Waltz’s strange intensity is a perfect foil for the lead trio’s zaniness, while Pine brings oily likable charm and great comedic timing of his own as Rex.
The addition of Pine is arguably the most fresh and redeeming change-up to the formula, offering a new dynamic between the lead trio that makes the second act of the film (where Pine is front and center) the most enjoyable part to watch. Cameos by people like Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) or Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) are not worth the effort, as their scenes are relegated to reacting to the over-the-top absurdity of the lead characters.
In the end, Horrible Bosses 2 is another fun time with the crazy trio we met in the first film – only it’s a party that definitely feels exhausted by the end. Some things are best left to one chapter, perhaps. As far as laughs at the theater during the holiday season, one could do worse. But then, in a different year, one could definitely do better.
Horrible Bosses 2 is now in theaters everywhere. It is 108 minutes long and is Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout.
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