Note: this review will be featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Warner Bros. attempts to recreate an anomaly once more with Horrible Bosses 2, a generally unpleasant, forgettable, and mostly unfunny adventure focusing on the likably immoral bunch of characters from the first film. After hitting a creative wall with the two sequels to their breakout success The Hangover, the studio tries to use a director from their breakout film in 2013 (Sean Anders from We’re the Millers) to bring about an inventive story for a sequel that feels wholly unnecessary. The story picks up with the three returning protagonists attempting to start their own company, allowing for a source of commentary on the American Dream and the pursuit of happiness that pervades many hard workers’ lives as they live under the oppression of powerful bosses. But the story eventually falls into a structure all too similar to the first film, built on deceit and stupidity on the behalf of its main characters, and its glorification of moral repugnance and simplification of characters make for a frustrating new vision of a familiar world.
The three maniacal oafs from the first film return: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day), all of whom have invented a new device called the Shower Buddy that attaches to the shower head and dispenses soap with water in efficient increments. They sell this product on a talk show and get contacted by inventive genius Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz), who offers them a deal to make 100,000 units and he will distribute the devices to the masses. Basically, he’ll make them millionaires. They also run into Rex Hanson (Chris Pine), Bert’s arrogant son, who battles with his father for power but buys into Bert’s pitch to the boys. Sure enough, Bert cons our heroes by planning to bankrupt their business since they wanted to manufacture everything themselves in the United States, while he preferred China. Now, he’ll claim the company when it goes under and our heroes’ lives will be destroyed. So they recruit friends of old to help in their revenge, namely imprisoned Dave (Kevin Spacey), ever-promiscuous Julia (Jennifer Aniston), and MF Jones (Jamie Foxx).
The callbacks to its predecessor run rampant this time around, usually a sign that some originality has been lost and replaced with nostalgia. That’s not particularly effective when the first film is still fresh in everyone’s minds. What grows frustrating for the viewer, particularly one that enjoyed the first film and wants to see these characters expand and reach new heights, is that the story wallows in stagnation and refuses to build upon the solid foundation. Kurt becomes a character that primarily spews sex jokes and acts like the horniest man alive, while providing no relative motivation for being such a man. Nick, meanwhile, only becomes obsessed with Julia and acts as a helpless puppy without using her as motivation. The only shred of a real character is Dale, but even his developments concerning him having a family (without ever showing the audience how much he cares about them, but rather how little he seems to do for them) feel insincere and inopportune. Rex and Burt get glimpses of humanity only for the film’s final half hour refusing to make them characters and instead opting for glorified villains from better films.
The actors are game for the roles, particularly Day, who has proven himself one of the strongest comedic actors in Hollywood. His work on It’s Always Sunny works tremendously to his skill set, and here he is given the loudest jokes even if the script fills some of his work with poorly timed laughs. Aniston shines with her work, too, if only because she presents such grotesque thoughts in a playful, often repetitive manner. There’s never a sense of narrative momentum, particularly as the film lulls in the second half and falls into the trap of not making much sense conceptually and throwing away potential creative paths in exchange for big set pieces. In a year marked by a glut of disappointing and unnecessary sequels (The Expendables 3, Dolphin Tale 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spider-Man 2…the list could go on), it’s fairly unsurprising that Horrible Bosses 2 has used a campaign that reminds audiences of the first one rather than selling them on the merits of this new feature. The film treads familiar turf and harkens back to other hopeful franchises that just didn’t know when to let a good thing be.
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)