It’s hard to imagine a movie less deserving of a high profile follow-up than “Horrible Bosses,” the inert 2012 comedy that saw a trio of bumbling goofballs (Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman and Charlie Day) plot the separate murders of their abominable employers (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell). “Horrible Bosses” thought it was edgy and provocative, but it was safe and predictable and without merit. And yet, it earned a respectable enough box office that a sequel was quickly commissioned, without much of the creative team that made it such a success in the first place and, whether or not anyone really asked for it, “Horrible Bosses 2” is here. The fact that the sequel is a messy, dull, instantly forgettable trifle somehow makes it the perfect follow-up to the original — it’s just as horrible.
As the sequel opens, the victims of the horrible bosses have themselves become bosses, leading an entrepreneurial charge to get their Shower Buddy device (a shampoo dispenser/shower head combo) to the masses via awkward morning talk show appearances (where, of course, the guys end up simulating fellatio like something out of a lesser “Austin Powers” sequel) and appealing to Bert and Rex Hanson, a pair of slick, father-and-son moguls (played, with an admitted amount of impish glee, by Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine). When their business deal goes south, the would-be criminals hatch a harebrained scheme to kidnap Rex and extort Bert for the amount of money they’re losing on their business. The “twist,” given away months ago in a series of overly explanatory marketing materials, is that Rex wants to be kidnapped and exert his own scheme against his father.
In terms of tone, the sequel has willfully abandoned any attempts at the kind of hard-edged darkness the original occasionally attempted; this is purely two-dimensional comic fluff. This is actually a smart move. Not only is kidnapping, on the scale of criminal malevolence, less severe, but the characters in “Horrible Bosses 2” have become even more cartoonish. Day’s character has a wife and twins, but they’re only glimpsed fleetingly, and the other two main characters are so devoid of an internal life that they might as well be cardboard cutouts. The movie even looks like its edginess has been stripped away; shadows are barely present, colors pop like in comic book panels and a couple of sequences are staged like elaborately tricky music videos. And while this all adds up to create a more consistently unified tone, it also does much to rob the movie of any real stakes. Especially in comedy, a little malevolence goes a long way.
All of this tonal re-jiggering would be okay if the shift away from the darker humor of the first film produced a sequel that was actually funnier, but “Horrible Bosses 2” is, for the most part, insufferable. It’s a virtually laugh-free cavern, a black hole of humor, the type of place where good moods go to die. Not only do jokes not land (there’s a recurring gag about Sudeikis’ ring tone being Katy Perry‘s “Roar” and a prolonged reference to “Predator“) but a shocking amount of time is devoted to referencing the original film, a movie that we’re still not sure anybody actually liked, much less remembered, which means extended cameo appearances by Aniston (unleashing a truly filthy stream of sexual references), Spacey (now reconfigured as a Madoff-like white collar inmate) and Jamie Foxx (as supposed criminal mastermind Motherfucker Jones, who sizes up the three loons as the various characters from “9 to 5“).
Sudeikis, Bateman and Day are painfully obnoxious this time around. The script for the sequel (by John Morris and Sean Anders, who also directed) is even thinner than the original, which means more screen time is given over to simply watching them mug in front of the camera. This isn’t improvisation, exactly, since all they do is engage in moments where they annoyingly talk over one another (Day’s high-pitched squeak has become even more ear-piercing), usually while attempting to hatch some new criminal enterprise. Pine, for his part, has grabbed his role with a certain amount of brio, but it’s easily his weakest comedic performance of the year, after a pair of fine turns in Joe Carnahan‘s “Stretch” and, next month, in Rob Marshall‘s “Into the Woods.” Meanwhile, Waltz seems to want to give his character more dimension than was on the page, saying things like “You think hard work creates wealth? Wealth creates wealth,” but Anders’ unenthusiastic direction and the general aimlessness of the screenplay fails to sustain or even reinforce whatever social commentary Waltz might have been going for.
By the end of “Horrible Bosses 2,” the impression that this isn’t merely a sequel but an attempt to create the kind of jovial vibe that would warrant further adventures, starts to uneasily settle in. There aren’t any direct set-ups for future films, but between the action-packed car chase and one of those audience-pandering credits sequences where they show all the actors and freeze frame on them while laughing, while their name pops up on screen (we get it, you had tons of fun making this piece of garbage), Anders and his team are clearly aiming for the audience to leave the theater so euphoric that they would undoubtedly line up for a “Horrible Bosses 3,” thus completing the most unnecessary trilogy since “The Hangover” films. Dear lord, can you imagine anything quite so horrible? [D]