With its mixture of raunch, stunt casting, and financial-crisis topicality, 2011’s Horrible Bosses was a pleasantly Zeitgeisty comedy about a trio of amiably bland dimwits haplessly trying to kill their bosses. It was no Office Space, but it had a nice, getting-back-at-the-man kick; big, bold onscreen letters regularly described how much our heroes hated their workplace overlords. The new, decidedly inferior sequel has its share of chuckles, but it’s got none of that edge or anger. In fact, I’m not even sure why it’s called Horrible Bosses 2. It’s not really about bosses or office politics. Its only allegiance seems to be to the law of the sequel: It puts the same characters into a vaguely familiar situation, with diminishing, tepid returns. They should have just called it 2.
When we rejoin them, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) have finally quit their terrible jobs and are trying to start up a company selling an elaborate new contraption called a Shower Buddy. That attracts the attentions of a massive retailer called Boulder Stream, whose owner Bert (Christoph Waltz, wasted) puts in a massive order and then cancels it at the last minute, effectively bankrupting them. To get back, our heroes decide to kidnap Bert’s son Rex (Chris Pine), who is desperate to get out from under Dad’s shadow. After a rather charming nitrous-oxide mishap, they abort their kidnapping attempt. But Rex wises up to the situation and in effect kidnaps himself for them, then puts in effect an elaborate plan to get Dad’s ransom money. (And for any Spoiler Cops out there worried I’ve given away too much, know that all this information is basically also in the film’s trailer.)
To be fair, Horrible Bosses 2 does make some feints toward class awareness early on. “Do you honestly think that hard work creates wealth?” Bert cackles at our trio as he screws them over. “The only thing that creates wealth is wealth! And we have it, and you don’t!” There’s also some lip service given to outsourcing and corporate takeovers, but none of it really feeds into the generic kidnapping-gone-wrong plot. Meanwhile, the gags are mostly hit and miss, a mixture of predictable belly laughs (there’s some decent fun had at the expense of the Shower Buddy, and Jennifer Aniston shows up again for another round of sex-addict jokes) and awkwardly manufactured attempts at edge. (The protagonists call their new company “Nick, Kurt, & Dale,” which causes problems because, in the film’s vision of the world, people pronounce “Nick-Kurt-Dale” as “niggerdale,” which, what?)
What’s even more problematic, the distinctions that made Nick, Kurt, and Dale interesting in the first film seem to have melted into an inchoate mush of sameness. In part, it’s because these characters are no longer reacting to their own distinct workplace environments, but rather to the same uninspired plot developments. Oh, sure, Kurt’s still (basically) a womanizer, and Nick’s still (sort of) earnest, and Dale’s still (somewhat) neurotic. But at times they seem to trade character traits, too. It doesn’t help that Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day all feel like variations on the same type to begin with. Chris Pine, on the other hand, is clearly having the time of his life, poking fun at his douchey pretty-boy persona; between his tongue-in-cheek performance here and in the upcoming Into the Woods, he seems to be having an interesting moment. You may laugh a lot at him while laughing only a little at the rest of Horrible Bosses 2. None of which should come as a surprise. Dull, monotonous sequels to sharp, inventive comedies are as American as income inequality and lousy workplace politics.