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Horrible Bosses 2 Movie Review

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) movie poster Horrible Bosses 2

Theatrical Release: November 26, 2014 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Sean Anders / Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris (story & screenplay); Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley (story), Michael Markowitz (characters)

Cast: Jason Bateman (Nick Hendricks), Jason Sudeikis (Kurt Buckman), Charlie Day (Dale Arbus), Jennifer Aniston (Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S.), Kevin Spacey (Dave Harken), Jamie Foxx (Dean "MF" Jones), Chris Pine (Rex Hanson), Christoph Waltz (Bert Hanson), Jonathan Banks (Detective Hatcher), Lindsay Sloane (Stacy Arbus), Keegan-Michael Key (Mike), Kelly Stables (Rachel)

 

Big studio comedies rarely take you by surprise. You usually know in advance what to expect from an established leading man or experienced writers and directors. Horrible Bosses was one of the few in recent years to genuinely disarm and delight. The 2011 comedy came from a trio of writers either largely or entirely untested in feature films and from Seth Gordon, a director who followed the great documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars with a pretty average narrative debut (Four Christmases) that led,
laterally, to helming episodes of some of network television's better comedies. Horrible starred a trio of seasoned funnymen who generally held supporting roles, if anything, in movies. Top-billed actor, Jason Bateman, was someone whose leading roles came in movies ranging from the banal (The Change-Up, Couples Retreat) to the mediocre (The Switch, Extract).

All of this set expectations pretty low, even with a theatrical opening in the competitive month of July. By exceeding those expectations, the movie registered as a pleasant surprise and a worthwhile diversion. Three and a half years later, the gang returns for Horrible Bosses 2, a sequel launching on one of the most competitive weeks of the year to uncertain demand. The first movie was no behemothic blockbuster like The Hangover, probably its closest model in terms of content, dynamic, and quality. Still, its $210 million worldwide gross (more than half of it domestically) on a $35 M budget meant it turned a more than healthy profit.

The original film certainly did not demand a sequel, or leave much room for one. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime stories which its protagonists were lucky to escape with their lives and freedom intact. One assumes that the robust returns and the obvious enjoyment the dynamic cast took were enough for everyone to agree to make another. The same rationale seemed to spark Ocean's Twelve and The Hangover Part II, two follow-ups that fell well short of their expectations. Judging from early reviews, the critical consensus indicates the second Horrible Bosses similarly disappoints. I don't agree. Yes, it's clearly true that this sequel is not as much fun as its predecessor. Few comedies are. Judged against contemporary cinema as a whole, HB2 certainly qualifies as an entertaining time and as something of a refreshing alternative to the season's serious awards bait and even more serious new Hunger Games.

In "Horrible Bosses 2", friends Dale (Charlie Day), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Nick (Jason Bateman) try again to be criminals.

When we last saw Nick Hendricks (Bateman), Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), they were relieved to be alive and not going to prison. Their plan to kill their dreadful respective bosses was far beyond their criminal capabilities. The sequel opens with the best friends appearing on a local morning show to talk about a new entrepreneurial venture they hope will allow them to become their own bosses. The guys have invented the "Shower Buddy", a product that will supposedly revolutionize the showering experience. We never really understand its use and the opening sequence largely seems to exist only to enable a not so funny gag of unintentionally inappropriate positioning.

Nonetheless, the guys get a call from bath appliance giant Boulder Stream and an invitation to meet with young executive Rex Hanson (Chris Pine). We immediately recognize him as a slimeball, as he quickly, slickly walks through a proposal that will give the guys a one-time development fee and his company the right to mass-produce the device in China to extraordinary financial gain. Uncomfortable with the terms of the deal and wanting to manufacture the product in America, the guys refuse the offer. Then, Rex's father Bert (Christoph Waltz), a self-made billionaire immigrant who is sympathetic to the inventors' dream, places a big order and arranges for a bank loan to allow the start-up company to start up.

Turns out Bert is not so much a friend but a shrewd businessman exploiting their creation with a manuever that will bankrupt Nick, Kurt, and Dale before their business can even get off the ground. Their best idea for getting out of this situation is to kidnap Rex for a six-figure ransom. Of course, they're just as unqualified at kidnapping as they were at murder. The advice of their not-so-hardened former murder consultant (Jamie Foxx) is, once again, not terribly helpful. But the guys are out of options and the callous nature of their swindling seems to justify the rash, ill-formed plan for revenge.

Jennifer Aniston returns as sex-obsessed dentist Julia Harris for the crudest and most belabored comedy of "Horrible Bosses 2." Kidnapping douchey exec Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) may be the guys' only shot at saving their business.

The good news is that Bosses 2 avoids the pitfalls of the two aforementioned comedy sequel busts. It does not settle for flat-out retread, as the second Hangover did by unimaginatively recreating the Vegas shenanigans in Bangkok.
It also doesn't get too cute, clever, and self-satisfied the way that Ocean's Twelve did. This sequel is well aware of what it is and respectful of the fans who made the first movie a success. Thus, it revisits what worked in the first movie, spending more time with three witty ordinary guys and watching them try to flail their way out of a tough spot in a way that none of them is cut out for. The central dynamic still entertains. These are three likable comedians on their own and bringing them together creates great energy and some winning rhythms.

Where this sequel falters is by not crafting a really sharp story to rival that of the first film. This comic trio thrived with the original's surprisingly smart and taut plotting. The sequel's ideas are less structurally sound. The screenplay by the duo of Sean Anders and John Morris (We're the Millers, Hot Tub Time Machine) repeatedly tries to subvert expectations with unforeseen complications. But such twists aren't always unforeseen and a number of them do not fare well under even minor scrutiny. The plot is really kind of a mess and it doesn't get any less so as it progresses.

There are a number of good laughs and plenty of callbacks to the first film. Too often, though, the movie is more content to be outrageous than funny. While Foxx's consistently amusing character is well utilized (even when stretching logic) and even Kevin Spacey serves a purpose in his pair of brief incarcerated cameos, Jennifer Aniston reprises her role, the weakest of the original horrible bosses, as a sex-crazed dentist to very little entertainment value. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't resist Aniston's star power and kept trying to make her fit into this story. But it's forced and the already thin shtick grows even thinner with an envelope-pushing sex addicts meeting and random resurfacing.

Some may judge this harshly just because the original film didn't need a sequel, let alone one that doesn't do a single thing better than its predecessor did. There are a good number of laughs, with Day again leading the way. But it's difficult to follow up a good movie, even when all cast members who should return do so. A couple of gags are really well-played but do not eclipse the ones in the predecessor or add up to the same delirious, unpredictable atmosphere on which the first film soared. Of all the sequels you might compare this to, the one that seems most appropriate to me is Anchorman 2, which similarly offered the joy of reunion without being able to recreate the rare comedy dynamite.

Related Reviews:
Horrible Bosses The Hangover The Hangover Part II The Hangover Part III Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Jason Bateman: The Switch Extract | Charlie Day: Going the Distance | Jason Sudeikis: We're the Millers Hall Pass
Chris Pine: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit | Jennifer Aniston: Just Go WIth It The Bounty Hunter | Christoph Waltz: The Green Hornet
From the Writers: That's My Boy She's Out of My League Hot Tub Time Machine Mr. Popper's Penguins
Now in Theaters: Big Hero 6 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 The Theory of Everything

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Reviewed November 26, 2014.



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