Horrible Bosses 2 is a striking illustration of why comedy sequels are generally a bad idea. It takes the basic framework of its predecessor and creates an oh-so-pale imitation, completely stripping away the elements of surprise that made the original a pretty entertaining experience. It doesn't attempt to continue the story told in the first film so much as find a way to essentially repeat it, and in the process it somehow loses almost all of the basic charms the first film possessed. Loopy gags that previously delivered big laughs fall this flat time around, partially because we see the jokes coming a mile away and partially because almost everyone involved with the film seems to be off their game.
As the film begins, Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development), Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, Saturday Night Live) and Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) have started their own business and are currently in the process of pitching their new invention to investors. The invention: “The Shower Buddy,” a device that automatically dispenses soap and shampoo. Seems a little pointless, but hey, dumber inventions have made people a lot of money. After demonstrating their product on a TV morning show, the guys quickly find a wealthy investor: Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds), a genial businessman who places an order for 100,000 Shower Buddy units. The guys are understandably ecstatic, and immediately begin the manufacturing process.
Alas, Bert turns out to be yet another horrible b... er, business partner. Once the manufacturing process is completed, Bert cancels his order, leaving our scrappy trio in financial ruin. Adding insult to injury, Bert begins preparing the launch of his own copycat device: “The Shower Pal.” Desperate to recover their losses (or at least exact revenge), Nick, Kurt and Dale begin hatching a new criminal scheme. Their plan is to kidnap Bert's playboy son Rex (Chris Pine, Star Trek) and demand a ransom. Naturally, things don't quite go according to plan.
In one scene after another, Horrible Bosses 2 is hampered by its desire to recreate the best bits of its predecessor. Most people agreed that the characters played by Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) and Jennifer Aniston (Friends) were highlights of the first movie, so they're back... but under incredibly contrived circumstances. It's bad enough that Aniston and Spacey are awkwardly shoehorned into the plot, but worse that they're asked to merely repeat what they did last time. Spacey's vulgar insults and Aniston's vulgar come-ons feel like rejected alternate takes from the first film. Likewise, Jamie Foxx (Miami Vice) – whose personality quirks proved a considerable source of delight in Horrible Bosses – is called upon to repeat his performance. The first film generated big laughs by delivering a barrage of unexpected character twists: he shared a name with a Disney actor, he was a devoted cinephile, his tough guy persona was all part of an elaborate act, etc. The movie offers variations on the exact same jokes, but they're not funny anymore because we already know the punchlines.
The most surprising failure of Horrible Bosses 2 is that it manages to make the three leads completely unappealing. Previously, the trio of lead actors felt like a fairly inspired mix: Day brought sincere, spastic energy, Sudeikis bought overgrown frat boy foolishness and Bateman served up deadpan reaction shots. This time, the chemistry is completely off. All three men seem desperate to steal scenes, and as a result spend almost the entire movie shouting over each other. It's a worst-case-scenario version of the sort of half-scripted, heavily-improvised type of comedy that's so popular these days, as talented-but-directionless comedians turn seemingly unfinished scenes into shrill chaos. The soundtrack only exacerbates the problem, underscoring a lot of this yammering with aggressive blues-rock. It's telling that the best (and funniest) moment in the movie is a amusingly lengthy shot featuring Day, Bateman, Sudeikis and Foxx sitting next to each other in absolute silence.
If there's anything worth salvaging here, it's Chris Pine's performance as the bratty would-be kidnapping victim. I find Pine a little dull as a leading man, but I suspect he might make a terrific character actor someday. Consider his performances in Joe Carnahan's testosterone-fueled action/comedies Smokin' Aces and Stretch. Those are performances delivered by a weird, interesting comic voice, and it's that version of Pine we get in Horrible Bosses 2. He's an eccentric loose cannon who frustrates and occasionally terrifies the guys, but the effect simply isn't as strong as it should be because everybody in the movie feels like a loose cannon. Pine's delivering the sort of entertainingly big, loud performance that would have worked like gangbusters if someone else had given him some contrast to work with. You get the sense that everyone is working overtime to cover up the script's mediocrity, but their efforts are counterproductive: with grating, overzealous effort, they turn mediocrity into garbage.
Horrible Bosses 2
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Year: 2014