Arriving to the cinematic Thanskgiving table like that chunky jello salad no one recalls asking for, Horrible Bosses 2 proves to be more of the same forced, unnecessary comic desperation we got a few weeks ago with Dumb and Dumber To — at least the Farrellys comitted to their farcical characters, no matter the stale shenanigans.
Losing Seth Gordon as director for this go-round, as well as the trio of screenwriters (Seth Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan M. Goldstein), the new Bosses reassembles as much of the old cast as they can but don’t seem to remotely understand the original’s appeal. Here’s a comedy that recreates those feelings of bitterness and lack-of-control that come with a really horrible boss, but does so by subjecting the audience to a tumultuous, queasy buffet of antics that go on and on without relief.
Sean Anders directs the script he wrote with John Morris, and he demonstrates here, as he did with the Dumber sequel, that he’s much more comfortable with scatological insights than psychological ones, although Bosses ill-fitting humor is usually of the raunchier, sexually-demeaning variety. The first Bosses operated off of a very simple and dexterous dark comedy premise; three mostly decent, hapless guys were pushed to the edge of themselves by overbearing, clueless and aggressive bosses and decided together, to kill them. The combo of three very different comic stylings in Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day helped the erratic tonal shifts go down easier, and the presence of Jamie Foxx as the group’s ‘murder consultant’ provided a comic zing that sidelined the questionable morality of men planning to off their employers.
It was the bosses themselves, however, that really stole the show. Kevin Spacey as a malignant, voracious wolf, Jennifer Aniston as a domineering sex-pot, and—most memorably—Colin Farrell as a drugged-out man-child sporting a Lovecraftian comb-over, chewed the scenery and left uncomfortable laughter in their wake. After veering towards another level of darkness altogether, the original Horrible Bosses flinched, and course-corrected for a sunny happy ending. Anders initially attempts to re-engage with that darker undercurrent for this installment, but gets hung-up on trying to concoct the same recipe for second helping. It’s no surprise that Anders brings back two of the bosses, Aniston and Spacey, and uses them just enough to exploit the good-will built by his predecessors. In fact, not finding some contrived way of reviving Farrell may be the only way this film sidesteps being in the same league as Weekend at Bernies 2.
Evoking that bewildering signpost of 90’s sequel exhaustion may seem a bit much, but not unlike the greedy, immoral baddies on display, Horrible Bosses 2 deserves almost everything coming to it. Sudeikis, Bateman and Day work tirelessly to draw what juice they can from this new adventure, but even they seem to realize this was always a one-movie joke. Instead of being ground-down by individual fiends at three different jobs, the boys are now in business for themselves, with an invention of their own, the ‘Shower Buddy’. When they sell their product to an obviously conniving CEO (Christoph Waltz, grinning like a madman), and he forces them into bankruptcy for his own benefit, the trio plan a little revenge. This will involve kidnapping Waltz’s narcissistic son Rex (Chris Pine) and holding him for a ransom of 5 million dollars.
Anders gets some mileage initially by setting-up the character’s delusions of a smooth caper—we see their proposed employment of their clandestine plan and then we see the trouble-riddled reality falling apart around them—and he also benefits from Pine, rolling out an entertaining no-gooder in the form of Waltz’s pampered, leering son. The intimation that Pine isn’t exactly an unwilling accomplice in his capture is a tasty possibility that the movie does nothing with. While the actor is clearly having a good time, Joe Carnahan used him to sleazier, more deranged effect in this year’s Stretch, where his uncredited gonzo playboy butted heads with a straight-laced Patrick Wilson. Waltz feels completely out of place, but that’s one of the actor’s special gifts—taking his bewildering presence and reconstructing the surrounding film to fit his own reality—and here he’s never given enough screentime to carve out a plausible habitat for his character. Spacey and Anniston are fun, but terribly underwritten and in Aniston’s case, she’s saddled with the worst of the useless raunch.
I have enjoyed these three leads in plenty of other material, and will likely enjoy them again, but there’s a disruptive nature to the way they play off each other here that neuters even the jokes that have potential. Bateman is tuned into about the same wavelength as Identity Crisis and the first Bosses, and that faux, milque-toast brittleness looks blaise next to Sudeikis’ grating smarm, while Day bounces around like something that burrowed in via cartoon tornado from a Saturday morning kid’s show. The damp paste intended to hold this flimsy enterprise together is Anders odious edginess, which never feels particularly subversive because of the glossy, chipper bow it’s all wrapped up in.
Had the movie really wanted to explore the internal workings of these supposed nice-guys, and why they twice now, would have engaged in such escalated criminal wrongdoing, it might have drudged up a dark comedy that could have both shocked us and made us laugh, with a little room for thought along the way. Instead, there’s something deeply hypocritcal about a movie that wants to deal in such seedy undercurrents and still takes us out on a pop-fueled, sitcom note. Skip this part of the holiday feeding frenzy; seconds of Horrible Bosses will just give you gas and guilt, without even the pleasure of the moment for comfort.
Horrible Bosses 2 is now playing in wide release.