Dying is easy; comedy is hard. It’s an old truism that is entirely true, but it doesn’t take into account an even scarier hardship: making a comedy sequel. By and large, telling the same joke again will never get the same laugh, but trying to make the same 90-minute movie rarely appears as anything less than desperate. Ghostbusters II, Another 48 Hrs., those dreaded The Hangover follow-ups?
Horrible Bosses 2 does not fall quite into such depths, never mind this month’s truly abysmal Dumb and Dumber To. But that still doesn’t change the fact that Horrible Bosses 2 showed up two hours late for the interview, and then thought it could charm its way into the job. Sadly, there is nothing charming to be found in this smarmy experience—just a halfhearted business venture hoping to bend your wallet over and show it the whole 50 states.
The guys from the original Horrible Bosses are back, and they’re as goofy as ever, if even a bit more cartoonishly incompetent. After spending all last movie stuck in jobs they could never seem to quit, Nick, Kurt, and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) have gone into business for themselves with a new patented item called “The Shower Buddy.” A fairly pointless invention, it’s still able to grab the attention of smiling alpha male douchebag Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) and his billionaire father Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz).
Going into seeming business with the Hansons, our hapless heroes soon have an American factory and a new career until Bert Hanson double-crosses them, leaving them on the verge of bankruptcy. Their solution? Kidnap Rex and extort his German papa for $5 million.
The most striking thing about Horrible Bosses 2 is how much more unlikable the three leads are this time around. In the first film, they had an everyman quality. Even whiny Dale’s nasally Charlie Day squealing about fear of sex with Jennifer Aniston (poor bastard) felt approachably lovable. But this time around, they are too buffoonish by half to be relatable to anyone who’s at least graduated from the third grade.
Bateman brings his consistent Michael Bluth persona to the proceedings, and Sudeikis is his usually winsome smartass, walking through the movie with the overconfidence of a man better than everything around him; sadly though, this time he’s right. He and the rest of the three leads are much better than this material. The trio goes for a spastic Three Stooges vibe in the wackier sequel, but unfortunately ends up somewhere closer to The Three Stooges movie from a few years ago.
The sad thing is that there is probably a genuinely darker turn the comedy could have found. Here are three “good” average Joes who are once again involved in an asinine plan of criminal malfeasance against those who have wronged them professionally. In the last film, they got one of their bosses killed in an attempt to murder all three, and here they are now trying their hand at kidnapping and extortion. There is an ominous well of material that could be sipped from, but director Sean Anders and his sea of screenwriters opt to play it boringly safe.
With that said, there are laughs to be had in Horrible Bosses 2, albeit mostly from all the cameoing horrible bosses that have returned for an encore. Kevin Spacey only passes by for two scenes as their jailbird guru, commenting about how they need to get their hands dirty. Finally allowed to drop the Southern twang of House of Cards and all modicums of good taste, Spacey revels in letting the guys know what he really thinks of them, treating monologues about the “Ballessness” of the current generation like he’s still Richard III at the Old Vic.
Also reprising her scene chewing is Jennifer Aniston as Dr. Julia Harris. Everything that comes out of her mouth, often written with the express interest of exploring the reverse, is of the coarsest and smuttiest 14-year-old boy fantasies, and not without a hint of desperation. But whether you admit it later or not, it is impossible to prevent the giggles, especially in Julia’s final revenge schemes for Dale, her “white whale.”
Jamie Foxx also returns for a few chuckles, and Pine and Waltz are amiably game for the most sophomoric of mugging as the new titular big bads. However, the main overarching problem remains that they are the sideshows. This stunt casting can get a rise out of an audience, especially Aniston, but they’re not supposed to carry the film. The actual anchors of the film, “Nickurdale” (don’t say that out loud), fail to hold the movie together and instead pull it under the sea, drowning the experience in a sea of toilet humor.
Horrible Bosses 2 is not horrible, but it is perversely mediocre in its need to jump up and down in the anxious hopes of cracking a smile. The most offensive thing about these punch lines is how soft they land. Worse still, nobody onscreen seems to care enough to change it up.