Film review: Horrible Bosses 2 falls back on the original

Charlie Day, Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis start their own business while battling a goofy plot in Horrible Bosses 2. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Charlie Day, Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis start their own business while battling a goofy plot in Horrible Bosses 2. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

During one of the many minutes-long stretches of Horrible Bosses 2 that pass by without a single chuckle, your mind may start to wander as you realize how strangely and unintentionally meta it is that a movie about self-employment would become a victim of its own success. It’s as though the makers of the first movie were so surprised by its reception that without thinking things through, they immediately started work on a sequel about working stiffs who, surprised by their ability to avoid jail, immediately start their own business—without thinking things through.

After the status quo ending of the first movie, Horrible Bosses 2 opens with former disgruntled employees Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) promoting their new invention on morning TV. This gets the attention of hotshot investor Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) and his father Burt (Christoph Waltz), who trick the gang into bankruptcy by ordering the product with no down payment or guarantee. Unwilling to give up on the dream of being their own bosses, faced with catastrophic debt and feeling responsible for the lives of their new employees, they embark on their latest criminal endeavor: kidnapping Rex in exchange for ransom. Along the way, there’s yelling, cameos, gross-out gags, more yelling, buried punchlines and still more yelling.

The strength of the first movie—a darkly comic yet lighthearted tale of lashing out against workplace dissatisfaction only to realize your own incompetence—even among people who disliked it, was due to the charm and chemistry of the cast. While Bateman and Sudeikis played into type as the exasperated egoist and affable pushover, respectively, and the A-list supporting cast (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston) chewed up the scenery, many hailed the appearance of Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and his arrival as a movie star in the most sympathetic role the movie had to offer (which isn’t saying much).

Interestingly, the biggest misfire of the sequel isn’t that it rehashes old ground or leans too heavily on the original’s strength. It’s that it finds inspired comedic performances from surprisingly effective straight men Waltz and Pine, only to squander them by falling back on spastic gags that evoke reactionary laughs and three guys yelling over each other as a punchline.

This is the strangest of HB2’s recurring gags—when all three leads begin talking over each other as quickly and loudly as possible. Two or three times makes sense for the characters who are in way over their heads, but by the fourth or fifth time, one has to wonder if anybody could think of a single line of dialogue that would work instead.

In fact, a film about Pine and Waltz’s characters with Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day in supporting roles might have proven more fun to watch.

All of these problems could be easily forgiven if the movie were funny more often. Though several gags are worth the price of admission, Horrible Bosses 2 is so flat that it barely rises to the level of Sandler-esque reaction comedy—the kind that surprises you into laughing because you don’t know what else to do.

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