Why is it that comedy sequels so often re-tread the same ground as their predecessors? Dumb and Dumber To, The Hangover Part II, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. And sure, 22 Jump Street hangs a lantern on this idea by doing it so blatantly, but that doesn’t automatically excuse just how similar the two movies are. This phenomenon is called “comedy sequel-itis,” and with Horrible Bosses 2 it is safe to say that another one has bitten the dust.
2011’s Horrible Bosses was a bit of a surprise when it came out that summer. The movie depicted the bumbling efforts of three disgruntled workers attempting to assassinate their bosses. It’s a simple premise, but it would be easy to screw-up, mostly by making the main characters too cynical or unlikable. Luckily the filmmakers came into three very hot comedy commodities in the forms of Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis. All three men return for the sequel, which isn’t quite as successful as the film that spawned it.
It seems that while Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) weren’t quite as successful in their previous endeavor as they might have hoped, they still found the chutzpah to go out on their own and form a new business. With the invention of the “Shower Buddy,” the three men hope to trade their entrepreneurial spirit for a nice payoff, and father-son investor team Rex (Chris Pine) and Bert (Christoph Waltz) Hanson might hold the key to such an eventuality. Unfortunately the guys find themselves taken advantage of once again, and they formulate a new plan: hold Rex hostage to get back the money Bert cheated them out of in the first place. With Nick, Kurt, Dale on the job (and with the help of Jamie Foxx’s [expletive deleted] Jones) nothing could possibly go wrong.
Just kidding. A lot goes wrong. That’s the fun of the movie. Or at least it’s supposed to be. When the guys first meet Rex he says to them, “You’re always fighting,” as if that’s the selling point of the movie. This constant bickering is instead quite grating, and scattered pieces of the movie are only salvaged by the respectively awkward charismas of Day and Sudeikis. Since the last movie, both Dale and Kurt have devolved into proto-humans – the type of comically stupid character that would not feasibly survive to adulthood in the real world. But this is a movie, and in this movie their imbecilities can be quite entertaining.
I found myself laughing a lot at the antics of Dale and Kurt, in spite of the fact that Horrible Bosses 2 is not a good movie. It cribs everything from the first movie, from story beats to jokes to music cues, and all without any sense of self-awareness. And the jokes that screenwriters Sean Anders (who also directs) and John Morris do attempt to add just feel derivative of other comedies, such as an early physical gag that invites the imaginary audience of a fake morning news show to believe Dale is manually pleasuring Kurt during a segment about their invention. These are Austin Powers-level bits, people, and they were barely funny then.
So the movie is much more successful when it just lets its leads play around. Well most of them. Bateman’s Nick has become even more of an insufferable straightman in the last three years. The character is annoying and actively undermines what little fun Day and Sudeikis manage to find. He is in full-on Michael Bluth mode, but that’s not what this movie needed. The supporting cast is likewise mishandled. Christoph Waltz is an excellent actor and a charming villain, but he is completely wasted in a script that really only gives him one good scene. Much of the fun in Horrible Bosses came from watching Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston cut loose and get crazy. Waltz doesn’t get that opportunity. At least Aniston is back for more of the same.
A re-watch raises the question of just how effective a comedy the original Horrible Bosses really was. It suffers from a lot of the same problems as its follow-up, with repetitive jokes and a noticeable level of misogyny and homophobia. But Horrible Bosses was a pleasant surprise in a world full of two-hour-long, improv-heavy, meandering Apatow-comedies. There is nothing surprising about Horrible Bosses 2. And the true crime is that there is nothing surprising about that lack of surprise.