In 2011, Horrible Bosses was a hit — and a big one, given the budget. And these days, that isn't just cause for celebration, it's a sign to set up a sequel (opening Nov. 26) to extract the maximum possible profit from an idea, even one as slender as the concept behind the first film: A trio of everyman schlubs come up with a plan to kill their abusive bosses, and do a generally terrible job of it.
Though Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis starred as the movie's idiotic threesome, the bosses gave the film its comic bite. Big stars Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey cut loose as the nymphomaniac dentist, incompetent cokehead, and corporate sadist terrorizing the main characters, respectively.
Directed by Seth Gordon (Identity Thief), Horrible Bosses was a tolerable comedy, and a little more interesting than the audience might have expected from the dark edge of its suburban setting. Its characters were so unimaginative and white bread, so ineffectual and set in their ways, that murder seemed to them a more likely bet than changing jobs, careers, or moving somewhere else.
And Horrible Bosses 2 feels unnecessary (as well as painful) not just because the initial movie left no story threads that needed to be taken up or characters that demanded to be revisited, but because it makes the first film feel worse in retrospect by stomping all over what made it work in the first place.
Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis return for the sequel, as do Aniston, Spacey, and Jamie Foxx (as the main trio's criminal "consultant" Dean "Motherfucker" Jones). Replacing Farrell, who, for obvious reasons, wouldn't be returning for another installment, are Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine as slick father-son bathroom fixture businessmen duo Bert and Rex Hanson. They inspire the main threesome to come up with a kidnapping scheme after their attempt to run their own company hits a huge snag.
Nick Hendricks (Bateman), Kurt Buckman (Sudeikis), and Dale Arbus (Day) are still terrible felons. Aniston still seems to be having a lot of fun as the lascivious Dr. Julia Harris, whose new membership in a sex addiction support group doesn't seem to stop her from fixating on "flipping" gay men. Spacey also seems to be having a good time in a few scenes that look to have been shot in a day or two, and Foxx is just fine. But recycling the beats of the first film is about all the thought that was given to Horrible Bosses 2, which rarely seems to come up with any actual jokes. (The main screenplay credits go to director Sean Anders and John Morris, who also worked on the much funnier follow-up Dumb and Dumber To.)
Rather, Horrible Bosses 2 tends to just dance in the area around where a punchline should be without landing on it. There's a bit about the team's shower caddy demonstration that, in silhouette, looks like something else. There's the montage in which they hire a bunch of people without qualifications because of their looks or circumstances. There's the sequence about how they never realized the name of their company sounds like a racial slur when said out loud. And there's the part in which someone has Katy Perry's "Roar" as their ring tone.
But without laughs, "edgy comedy" just feels tasteless and offensive — like the uncomfortable rape joke Horrible Bosses 2 tosses in toward its close, or the way Foxx's character goes from being a dig at the main characters' racist assumptions to the actual magical thug they originally thought of him as. Still, there's little that's really distinctive enough to get offended by other than the overwhelming laziness, as Horrible Bosses 2 runs off the lingering fumes that goodwill audiences have left over from the original movie.
Even the outtakes at the end manage only a faux jollity — Spacey reveals he's apparently reading off a script just out of the shot, while Waltz, who looks miserable, fumbles a car door and is told from off screen that this is going to be his credits clip, like it's a threat. Horrible Bosses 2 has three Oscar winners in its cast, and, alas, the best it can do with them is get them to show up.