The Lame's Afoot: Day, Sudeikis and Bateman return with more misguided boss-thwarting schemes in this underperforming sequel.
In one of the funnier scenes in Horrible Bosses 2, the three put-upon employees from the first film (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) compare themselves to the heroines of previous workplace comedy Nine to Five (1980). It's obvious that Bateman's Nick is uptight Jane Fonda, and Day's Dale is earthy Dolly Parton (his sexual harassment by his former boss lady [Jennifer Aniston] is, I fear, still a running gag in the sequel). But the parallel remains incomplete, because the trio has no equivalent to levelheaded, sardonic Lily Tomlin.
The scene demonstrates two things: First, while Nine to Five is no comedy classic, it's somehow endured for an impressive going-on-35 years in the collective consciousness. Second, the Horrible Bosses series won't wear as well. Viewers who enjoy the incessant riffing of the three likable leads — with funny assists from supporting players — will get some laughs out of this sequel. But it helps to keep your expectations as low as Parton's necklines.
In the first film, Nick, Dale and Kurt (Sudeikis) teamed up to murder one another's abusive supervisors, Strangers on a Train-style. Thanks primarily to their ineptitude, only one boss actually bit the dust. The sequel introduces a scenario that initially seems to turn the tables. Having invented a gadget called the Shower Buddy, our heroes embark on their very own business venture with the promise of a hefty order from an industrial titan (Christoph Waltz).
Now they're in the driver's seat, will Nick, Kurt and Dale turn out to be horrible bosses? (Point in favor: Their hiring practices are a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen.) Before we can watch their idealism collide with the realities of health insurance and unemployment payments, however, the film scampers straight back to the series' original formula.
Waltz's character pulls a fast one on the unsavvy trio, leaving them facing bankruptcy — once again, three plebes fighting the Man. And once again, they turn to not-so-hardened criminal "Motherfucker" Jones (Jamie Foxx) for advice on extra-legal solutions. Mishaps and pratfalls ensue, along with many tired jokes about everyone's lack of badassness.
Almost nothing surprising happens in Horrible Bosses 2, cowritten and directed by Sean Anders, whose greatest (still highly dubious) accomplishment to date is the script for Hot Tub Time Machine. Aside from crafting one creative fantasy sequence, he pretty much just puts the camera on the actors and lets them talk over one another.
The film's brightest spots are the performances. While Bateman's nervous-nice-guy shtik is all too familiar, Sudeikis and Day provide two amusingly complementary flavors of dim-wittedness: one dopily blissed out, the other squirrely and neurotic. Dumb and dumber, indeed.
Chris Pine steals large stretches of the movie as the evil CEO's wayward son, whom Nick, Kurt and Dale eventually resolve to abduct for ransom. Bouncing off the walls with a demented gleam in his eye, like a Ken doll with a meth habit, Pine clearly revels in utter rottenness. So does Aniston, whose deadpan delivery almost makes her character — a megalomaniac nymphomaniac — work on an absurdist level.
Then there's Oscar winner Waltz, who watches the trio's plot unfold before him with no particular surprise. Even when he's blindsided by events, the most he betrays is a dry air of bemusement at the foolishness of which humanity is capable. It's easy to imagine his character as a studio head, greenlighting this unnecessary sequel and then reacting to its dim opening-weekend grosses with a blasé shrug. Potential viewers would be well advised to adopt a similar attitude.
Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.