Silver Screen: Horrible Bosses II **1/2
Desperation and Hollywood go together like breasts and breast implants. Even still, the movie industry seemed especially fraught and directionless during the past few years. The origins of the syndrome are surely complex— owing to online platforms, video-on-demand streaming, a shaky economy, the lure of foreign markets, et cetera— but whatever the cause, the effect is blatant money grabs like the two-part Mockingjay or head-scratching remakes and followups like Horrible Bosses II.
Truly you’re scraping the bottle of the film can in search of established properties to resuscitate when you land on a second installment of a kind-of-funny, unmemorable moderate success like Horrible Bosses. It was a perfectly adequate middle-of-the-road comedy with an premise that by all logic resists a second go-around: Three harried employees who work at different offices concoct a Hitchcockian plot to hire a hitman to bump off their three tyrannical employers.
This time around the fellas (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) start their own company making shower gizmos, but find themselves at the mercy of a corporate raider (Christoph Waltz) and his bumbling son (Chris Pine). Their novel solution is to hire the same criminal (Jamie Foxx, whose character’s name is still the funniest thing about either movie) to help them kidnap the son for ransom. Along the way they find need, via some strained logic and plotting, to enlist the aid of their former bad bosses, the sex-addicted dentist (Jennifer Aniston) and the now-incarcerated manager (Kevin Spacey).
Horrible Bosses II is never able to overcome the initial conundrum of its own improbability. It’s not unrepentantly silly enough to dismiss its own ridiculousness à la Twenty-two Jump Street, nor smart enough to think its way around the obstacle. Worse still, it fails to justify its own existence, even as a simple joke-delivery machine. Can anyone spout off favorite quotes from the original, or even name any of the three main characters? What magic are we supposed to be recapturing here, exactly?
The trio of leads are narrowly defined but defiantly vague. Charlie Day’s Dale is the dopey but well-meaning family man, Jason Sudeikis’s Kurt is the unrepentant horndog, and Jason Bateman’s Nick is the sarcastic straight man. They rarely venture beyond these basic personas, but they don’t fully inhabit them either. All three actors are genuinely funny, which remains the movie’s ace in the hole. They’re pleasant to watch onscreen together, but if the only thing holding the movie together is their charisma and shared chemistry, why remain so married to the slapstick crime story?
The supporting players bring a little heat even to their underbaked characters. Pine is delightfully slimy, and Spacey excels in the field of yelling insults at people. (For further reference, see pretty much all of his pre-2000s comedies.) As with the first movie, Aniston’s licentious dentist character remains perplexing. Aniston is game, but her one-joke sex-obsession is basically an easy stereotype inverted. As an actress, is she being empowered here, or is this just objectification with a thin veneer of smirking self-awareness? Either way it’s not particularly funny, but kudos to Aniston for her enthusiasm, and what must be a pretty rigorous workout routine.
Nothing could be more unnecessary than Horrible Bosses III. A rough opening weekend at the box office suggests that probably won’t happen, but if times get tougher and the industry’s fearful cluelessness grows, don’t count it out. I’ve already got the idea for the story: Three guys are forced by their financial overlords to make the same crappy product over and over again until at last they revolt and make something new.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.