2011's "Horrible Bosses
" aimed for cutthroat black comedy and satire, but went soft in the payoff. Whether this was the result of a limp script or studio Warner Bros.' trepidations about possibly alienating mainstream audiences, the film lacked the daring to follow through on its edgy, comically over-the-top premise of a trio of bumbling friends plotting to murder their nightmarish bosses. The finished product had its moments and at least one truly great characterthat of insatiable, sexually deviant dentist Dr. Julia Harris, played with savage, smiling hilarity by Jennifer Aniston (2012's "Wanderlust
")but then petered out in the third act. The movie wanted audiences to like its three protagonists even as they made terrible criminal decisions, and its unwillingness to go for the jugular led to its undoing. Coming off a box-office hit with its precursor, "Horrible Bosses 2" opts to take few chances while upping the frantic, dumbed-down interplay between its leads. Director Sean Anders (2012's "That's My Boy
") and screenwriter John Morris (2014's "Dumb and Dumber To
") aren't above bad taste, but there is a stench of desperation to this sequel that makes it thoroughly unctuous.
The plot doesn't actually feature any horrible bosses this time around, unless one considers the practices of best friends and business partners Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), who hire the new staff of their upstart business based predominately on how hot they are. They have joined forces to create a clever product called the Shower Buddy, and when Boulder Stream investor Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) offers them seven figures for exclusive retail rights, they waste no time in buying out a warehouse to turn into their operation headquarters. Alas, it is only after they are five hundred grand in the hole that they discover Bert has (1) pulled out of the deal, and (2) stolen their idea and rebranded it the Shower Pal. Nick, Dale and Kurt are understandably enraged by this turn of events and want payback. With murder not really an optionthey learned the hard way that they're not cut out for homicidethey concoct a plan to kidnap Bert's smarmy son, Rex (Chris Pine), and hold him for ransom. What they do not anticipate is that Rex wants in on their scheme and expects nothing less than $5-million from dear, old dad.
"Horrible Bosses 2" is monotonous and frequently tired, a mean-spirited farce without the go-for-broke punch of better similar films like 1998's fearless "Very Bad Things
" or 2012's inventive "Seven Psychopaths
." Whereas Nick, Dale and Kurt were criminally inept in the first movie, they were otherwise generally well-adjusted professionals. In this follow-up, Nick spends nearly two hours attempting to wrangle Dale and Kurt, who have been turned into total imbeciles. When one of them tries to break into a house with a credit card, Nick must explain why it is important to retrieve it when it falls through the door crack. In another scene, they sneak into a dentist's office and blatantly use their real names over their walkie-talkies after Nick tells them about ten times to stop saying them. When an argument ensues over nicknames, they turn into bickering preschoolers who have no listening skills between them. This behavior happens over and over. Listening to them yell and run around for the duration fast becomes exasperating, and then torturous.
If Jason Bateman (2014's "This Is Where I Leave You
") does his best to keep things together as the comparatively sane Nick, Charlie Day (2013's "Pacific Rim
") and Jason Sudeikis (2013's "We're the Millers
") have seen their characters' IQs plummet in the three years between installments. They do what is asked of them and are energetic, but their shtick is more wearisome than amusing. Paired opposite these three for much of the narrative, Chris Pine (2014's "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
") is an inspired loose cannon as the conspiring Rex. As his egotistical father Bert, Christoph Waltz (2012's "Django Unchained
") plays his part like a winking variation on his chilling Oscar-winning character from 2009's "Inglourious Basterds
," but isn't on screen enough. Jamie Foxx (2014's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2
") is underused but game as he reprises his ex-con consultant Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), while Kevin Spacey (2008's "21
") shows up for an underwhelming two-scene cameo as Nick's imprisoned former boss Dave Harken. And then there is Jennifer Aniston, who continues to be the best thing this series has going for it as the voraciously kinky Dr. Julia Harris. Now attending sex addiction meetings but not exactly ready to change her ways, Julia casts her one-track eyes on Nick when he inadvertently ends up at one of her group sessions, yearning to hear all the sordid, dirty details about his sexual experiences as a young teenager. This scene is hilarious and quick-witted in a way so much of the film is not, and the wickedly entertaining Aniston is a big part of the reason why.
If there is a "Horrible Bosses 3," it would be in the screenwriter's best interest to cast Jennifer Aniston in a more prominent role that gives her the spotlight she has deserved and barely gotten in the first two pics. Julia is a true original, a fascinating, uninhibited force of nature who is screaming out to be further explored. Better yet, make her the lead of a spin-off and prepare for comic gold. "Horrible Bosses 2" is the kind of plodding sequel that gets made because the first one was a financial success, not because there was necessarily another story worth telling. Its predecessor did not exactly leave the biggest of shoes to fill, but the film still comes up short.