WRITTEN REVIEW – Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)
Horrible Bosses 2
Directed by: Sean Anders
Written by: Sean Anders & John Morris
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Chris Pine & Christoph Waltz
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Release Date: November 28th 2014
The original ‘Horrible Bosses‘ from 2011 was the little movie that could. Not much was expected from the black-comedy about what essentially amounted to the Three Stooges planning to kill their insufferable bosses. But the story of three schlubs commiting an act of catharsis that pretty much anyone who has ever worked an adult job could relate to resonated with audiences and ‘Horrible Bosses‘ received mostly positive reviews and a strong box-office haul. Now the same cast are back for a sequel, but with a very different creative team with Seth Gordan not returning to the director’s chair and the original writers only contributing towards the story instead of the screenplay. Does the biting business satire of the original work again or should those in charge of this sequel be fired?
‘Horrible Bosses 2‘ takes place shortly after the events of the first movie, with the original trio Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day) and Kurt (Sudeikis) starting up their own business in order to be better than the bosses they tried to kill off last time. However, they’re screwed-over by Burt Hanson (Waltz), the owner of a multi-billion dollar company who uses underhanded tactics to land the three in major financial trouble. Angry at being played for the fools they are, Nick, Dale and Kurt plan to kidnap Burt’s son, Rex (Pine) in order to gain a ransom to pay for their debts in the name of revenge.
The premise of “What if the Three Stooges were criminals?” still holds a lot of potential and it’s refreshing to see that ‘Horrible Bosses 2‘ doesn’t just repeat the plot of the previous movie. There are a few callbacks to the original such as what Kurt does to his targets toothbrushes, Dean “Motherf*****” Jones’s (Foxx) negotiation tactics and a clever reference to how the three were able to prove their innocence in the last movie, but in terms of the structure of the movie and their general motivation, the sequel changes the game quite a bit. When comedy-sequels like ‘The Hangover II‘ and ‘Grown Ups 2‘ can just repeat the formula of their predecessors, verbatim, and still wind up being financial successes, it’s commendable that this team branched out the premise more and distanced itself from the first.
The three characters are also coming from a more sympathetic position in this instalment. While their motivations were mostly justified (or, at least, understandable in the original), here they’re hoping to fight against Christoph Waltz’s Burt Hanson; the personification of the exploitative 1% in America, who use underhanded, immoral tactics to make quick savings in their business. “The American Dream; it’s made in China“, remarks Burt, while explaining his future plans for the main character’s stolen-business.
However, the movie does trip up with the likeability of its main characters by making them even dumber and lacking in common sense than the first one. One of the keys to the first movie was having three average people getting into a situation that they weren’t even remotely prepared for and letting the natural comedy flow. However, ‘Horrible Bosses 2‘ dials up the idiot-meter to such an extent that it’s almost hard to root for characters who are so obnoxiously dense. Make no mistake, these guys were never geniuses and they had frequent lapses in judgement in ‘Horrible Bosses‘, but when you have one of the trio lose their credit-card inside someone’s house and the other two don’t see why that’s a big deal or how that could compromise their plan…how can you want people so dumb to succeed?
This wouldn’t be so bad, however the film is structured more tightly than the first one. Scene-after-scene involves just the three actors improvising their dialogue and while it’s frequently funny since Bateman, Day and Sudeikis have such potent chemistry, there’s practically no breathing room with other side-characters in order to break up the pace. A scene involving the three characters improvising inside a car is immediately followed with a scene of the three improvising inside a house, immediately followed by another car journey, then in a warehouse etc. These characters are fun to spend time around for the most part, but there’s only so much tolerance viewers will have for them for extended periods of time. By the 10th scene in a row of them improvising, those lacking patience may feel like THEY’RE the ones that have been held to ransom by the trio instead of Chris Pine.
Speaking of Chris Pine (clever segway! HIGH-FIVE!), he easily gives the breakout performance here. While Bateman is on top-form as the “straight-guy” and Charlie Day is a frequent scene-stealer with his naive behaviour, it’s hard not to admire just how game Pine is and how much he’s willing to completely cut-loose and have a lot of fun playing this surprisingly complex playboy character. It’s easily the most emotive and varied performance in his recent career and the wooden delivery of his that’s found in ‘Star Trek‘ and ‘Jack Ryan‘ is nowhere to be found here. Chris Pine may want to follow the career path of Channing Tatum by embracing his natural gift for comedy through movies like ‘21 Jump Street‘ and ‘Magic Mike‘.
Also scene-stealers are Kevin Spacey who reprises his role as one of the titular horrible bosses from the first movie. While this movie was probably just an easy pay-cheque for him, Spacey has a natural energy and charisma that is utterly enthralling. Christoph Waltz is reliably on-point as Burt but one of the weak-links in the cast is Jason Sudeikis who has very little to do or contribute overall other than being the “sex-pest”. Jason has shown great range as a comedic actor before, but very little of that is given a chance to shine in ‘Horrible Bosses 2‘. And while Jamie Foxx, also reprising his role from the first movie, has a more active role, it feels like he’s repeating jokes from the previous movie and there’s a sense that Foxx is phoning his performance in. Jennifer Aniston also returns from the first, though it does feel like she’s here for humiliation purposes as well as delivering some incredibly tasteless and downright offensive lines poking-fun at homosexuality and male rape.
That’s another downfall of ‘Horrible Bosses 2‘; its big opening-joke during the opening credits is a lowest-common denominator sex-joke and the movie makes it known very quickly that it’ll start as it means to go on. There’s nothing wrong with this approach in theory, but it felt like a lot of the satire of American business ethics that was at the core of ‘Horrible Bosses‘ and in the premise of ‘Horrible Bosses 2‘ gets buried amid a sea of poop, gay and rape jokes. ‘Horrible Bosses‘ was never a beacon of high-brow comedy, but it never resorted to that approach to this relentlessly distracting degree.
‘Horrible Bosses 2‘ is a solid, but lesser movie than its predecessor, though its willingness to tell a different story than the first is respectable, as is some of the inspired camera-work and directing on display from director Sean Anders and cinematographer Julio Macat (including, but not limited to a great shot of the trio seeing their business get set-up at the beginning of the movie and a great fantasy sequence as they discuss their hostage plan). But the bombarding improvisational nature of the film may prove grating for even the most devoted fans of the first due to the lack of breathing room and limited supporting cast.
The first movie had the opportunity to branch out with its original three bosses, but here there’s only Chris Pine and Jennifer Aniston to fill out the credits (we don’t see much of Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and Christoph Waltz in the grand scheme of things) and even then they spend most of their time improvising with the trio, exacerbating the problem.
But the cathartic premise is still appealing and the jokes, for the most part, do hit more often then they don’t. But if there’s ever a third instalment, the dynamic of the three leads will need shaking up and a more diverse supporting cast to really dig deep into the satirical premise if this series is going to continue riding its wave of unprecedented success.
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Posted: 18th Dec 14