Scattered Laughs Can't Save Rotten "Horrible Bosses 2"

It wouldn’t be the Holiday season without a high-profile talent-waster, a role “Horrible Bosses 2” seems born to play.

As “Meet The Fockers” was to “Meet The Parents” ten Christmases ago, “Horrible Bosses 2” is a tired, frequently uncomfortable sequel to a film audiences generally liked. Liked. Tickets were bought, laughs were had, a profit was turned, but a cultural phenomenon it was not. There was no sequel inherent in its “three goofy friends come up with a half-assed plan to kill their terrible, no-good bosses, hijinks ensue” storyline, nor was there much demand for a follow-up. But business is business.

Lovable oafs Nick (Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development”), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis, “Saturday Night Live”), and Dale (Charlie Day, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”) are back, now their own horrible bosses. They’re the proprietors of a new bathroom accessory, the Shower Buddy, a device that dispenses shampoo and conditioner via showerhead. Despite a TV appearance gone wrong, they attract immediate attention from a wealthy investment firm headed by self-made millionaire Burt Hanson (Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”) and his son Rex (Chris Pine, “Star Trek”).

When the trio are inevitably double-crossed, they bandy about ideas in a sequence that results in most of the picture’s big laughs. A riff on a 90s action franchise is a highlight, along with Bateman’s typically perfect straight-man act, affixed in disbelief of his friends’ buffoonery. Misguided as ever, they land on what they dub a harmless kidnapping scheme involving Rex. Shower Buddy money reclaimed!

If nothing else, the film gets its plot device exactly right. The unpleasantness that follows will have moviegoers running for a full body scrub.

Rampant racism, misogyny, and homophobia serve as placeholders where actual jokes might have been, with Jennifer Aniston (“Friends”) – returning as Dale’s sex-addicted ex-boss – suffering the worst of it. In a scene with Bateman, she graphically, enthusiastically describes a fictional sexual encounter between two 14 year-olds. Later, Day’s character is misinterpreted as making a comment even more appalling.

A few of the film’s cruder passages are funny. Most of them are not, eventually slip-sliding down a slope of mean-spiritedness into full-on repulsion.

As our leads make their rounds, visiting old, familiar faces (Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey) as if out of obligation, the film plays like its own overlong unrated cut. Scenes go on and on for no reason, some without even efforting humor. Katy Perry, Twizzlers, and heist movie cliches are ostensible cues for laughs, but not written as jokes. The film wants us to laugh at those things just because they’re there, not because it has anything in particular to say about them.

Director Seth Gordon (“Identity Thief”) has been replaced with writer-director Sean Anders and it’s a major problem. Anders has done funny screenplay work (“Hot Tub Time Machine”), but “Horrible Bosses 2” stinks of his previous directorial effort “That’s My Boy.” Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley – writers of the original “Horrible Bosses” – turned in a version of the sequel that was promptly re-written by Anders and John Morris, resulting in a patchwork of unnecessary narrative legwork and three leads without any of the likable qualities they had the first time around.

Worse yet, Christoph Waltz gets nothing to do while Chris Pine further cements his status as talented performer who has yet to find a filmmaker not named J.J. Abrams that knows what to do with him.

From leads to supporting players, these characters are props in search of story, a joke, something to make the piece worthwhile. All are ultimately swallowed up by glaringly bad green screen work, a circular plot that ends up a detour to nowhere, exceptionally poor use of an Oscar-winner, and queasy jokes aplenty. Worst of all? It’s not without a few decent laughs, making it hard to dismiss entirely.

Bad sequels to classics are disappointing. They’re also inevitable. This is why there’s something extra sad in a bad sequel to a modest success. It’s a wonder anyone thought this screenplay was filmable, let alone the talent involved. All but diehard fans of the original – assuming there are a few out there – would be wise to do what cast and crew should have done – pass on “Horrible Bosses 2.”

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: November 26, 2014
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.)
Director: Sean Anders
Screenwriters: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein, Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx
MPAA Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content and language throughout)