Movie Review: “Horrible Bosses 2”

Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey
Sean Anders

The basic rule for sequels is to make everything bigger than the original. For action movies, that makes sense, even if it’s often unwise. For comedies, it makes no sense whatsoever, and “Horrible Bosses 2” is the proof. The three leads go from likable bumblers in the 2011 original to complete idiots here. Jennifer Aniston’s character has been grossly compromised, emphasis on “grossly.” Kevin Spacey is the only returning actor whose character survives with his dignity intact, but his character is an even bigger square peg than Aniston’s. The movie’s most egregious offense, though, is that it’s lazy. Not only is the plot a “22 Jump Street”-type rehashing of the original, but the opening scene would make the cast of “American Pie” blush. Really, guys, you’re sending love letters to “American Pie”? You’re better than that, or at least you used to be.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have decided that the best way to avoid having a boss is to be the boss, and the three launch a new product that attracts the interest of global shipper Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). Bert and the boys agree to a deal where they will supply his company with a huge order of their product, but Bert double-crosses them after they’re up to their eyeballs in debt, with the intention of stealing the product from them for pennies on the dollar. After ruling out a few extreme ideas, the three decide to kidnap Bert’s son Rex (Chris Pine), and hold him for enough ransom to make up their expenses. Much to their surprise, Rex is down with the plan, and encourages them to raise both the ransom and their game in return for a larger cut. The boys quickly realize, though, that Rex causes more headaches than the ransom money will solve.

It seems like they are trying to make the point that Nick, Kurt and Dale (man, did they make a groaner of a joke about their names put together) are the horrible bosses here, and technically they are, since it was their lack of business acumen that put them in this position and left them facing the prospect of laying off their entire staff and losing everything. What would have been really fun is if they had actually been horrible bosses in the same manner that their previous bosses were, but they didn’t realize it, and three subordinates, angry over perceived (but not actual) slights, exacted revenge on them. It would have taken some effort (multiple narratives, very precise writing so the dialogue works both ways), but it would have been fun to see Nick, Kurt and Dale play a different kind of victim this time around, using their experiences from the first film to get themselves out of their current predicament. (This alternate approach would also have eliminated the need for Aniston or Spacey to return, since neither one has any reason to be here, anyway.) Instead, we get…this. It’s hard to watch them, even Bateman’s alleged brains of the group, and not think, “Morons.”

Pine has spent the last several years playing Paramount’s boy scout, quite literally in one case (“Star Trek,” “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”), so it’s great to see him have a little fun for once. He is the most watchable thing about this movie hands down, which may or may not be damning with faint praise. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day do that rapid fire thing they did so well the first time, but they’ve lost the element of surprise, and it winds up similar to watching a comedian tell a joke you already know: it’s never as funny the second time. Aniston, however, suffers the worst. What was funny about Julia the dentist is that she was always in control. Here, they suggest that she’s into things that made Kyle Broflovski once say, “What the fuck is wrong with German people?” First Movie Julia would never do these things; they’re just going for the outrageous joke, even when it invalidates everything that her character once stood for.

“Horrible Bosses” was lightning in a bottle, the rare wacky but clever comedy that, $209 million in worldwide box office be damned, does not lend itself to a sequel. This is where the studio reads that last line and says, “What? I read ‘$209 million in worldwide box office’,” and greenlights a sequel before it has a script in hand. The end result is similar to “The Hangover Part II” (both movies, coincidentally, were produced by the same studio), where a group of guys goes through a harrowing life-or-death experience, only to choose to do it again, and make even worse decisions than they did the first time. Nick, Kurt and Dale may have had horrible bosses, but it is now clear that they are clueless fools, and there is no reason to root for them anymore.