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Non-Review Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Horrible Bosses 2 is a cluttered film. In many ways, it is handicapped by a reluctance to let go of what worked the first time around. As a result, the film seems to bring back just about every cast member it can, ensuring that everybody gets their own little arc and their own pay-offs. Two of the three original horrible bosses get extended subplots in the sequel, with an expanded role for another side character.

This leaves the film feeling a little crowded. The new additions to the cast seldom get room to breath. Horrible Bosses 2 brings in a rake of superb talent to fill out the supporting cast, but doesn’t have the time to do anything particularly interesting with them. Chris Pine makes the most significant impression, but Horrible Bosses 2 wastes  talent like Christoph Waltz and Jonathan Banks in fairly bland roles.

"I spot a sequel..."

“I spot a sequel…”

And yet, despite its problems managing space, Horrible Bosses 2 holds itself together. It’s a clumsy film, one that feels like it could have done with a script polish and some judicious editing at an early story phase, but it manages to hang a lot on the chemistry of its three leads. Even more than in the original film, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day find themselves playing archetypes rather than characters – but the fit rather comfortably into those archetypes.

Bateman, Sudeikis and Day spend a lot of Horrible Bosses 2 talking over one another – something that more than one character acknowledges over the course of the film. The result is a lot like the film itself; it’s often difficult to separate the important material from the background noise, but there’s also an underlying sense of fun that just about keeps everything ticking over.

"We've all seen Reservoir Dogs, right?"

“We’ve all seen Reservoir Dogs, right?”

The best bits of Horrible Bosses 2 have nothing to do with plot or character. Moments of bizarre inspiration play like disjointed sketch comedy – more variations on theme than an organic development of plot. There is a sense that Horrible Bosses 2 is playing the odds here. Let Bateman, Sudeikis and Day talk over one another long enough and you’re bound to hit four or five solid gags.

It is tempting to dismiss this as a sheer numbers game, but there’s a great deal of skill involved. Whether its Sudeikis and Day awkwardly trying not to sound homophobic while being desperately homophobic, or the trio arguing about codenames to use on their walkie-talkies, or the pronunciation of “kidnaping”, the laughs in Horrible Bosses 2 often feel like loose threads dangling from the film itself.

Ride along...

Ride along…

Normally in comedy films, the plot serves as a framework for the jokes; here, it’s like an abstract background detail. The result is that the world inhabited by these characters often feels shallow and superficial. The entire plot is predicated on the idea that our heroes are idiots. They go into business with a billionaire without taking even the most basic of precautions.

To be fair, Horrible Bosses 2 is the first to concede these flaws. When Kevin Spacey makes an extended cameo, he is sure to point out that our leads are “f%#kin’ morons.” After all, these are three characters who know what it is like to be exploited by a more powerful authority figure. It seems like they have learnt absolutely nothing from the last film. Then again, they have to have learnt nothing in order for the plot to work.

Big fish...

Big fish…

The film is self-aware enough to take some of the edge off, even if it can’t entirely smooth over these issues. Jamie Foxx’s side character, Jones, even points out that the leading trio are committed criminals after the events of the first film; they really shouldn’t pretend to be innocents again. Similarly, another character pauses to note how strange it is that the three bicker comically even after something horrific and game-changing happens.

Some of the best gags in the movie tread on self-awareness. The film plays with the typical “planning” montage that one expects in a caper film like this – treating the characters as if they are aware that they’ve segued into a cinematic montage and reconciling that with the comedic realities of the caper. While Horrible Bosses 2 is nowhere near as wry as 22 Jump Street, there are moments where the movie feels quite clever.

Opening some doors...

Opening some doors…

Horrible Bosses 2 feels more like a rough outline than a full film. Even the leading three characters feel like rough outlines rather than fully-formed individuals. In the years since the original, their features have blurred slightly – feeling more slightly archetypal and more generic than they did in the first film. Charlie Day’s Dale is the idiot. Jason Bateman’s Nick is the sane man. Jason Sudeikis’ Kurt has been tweaked slightly away from horny towards affable.

The characters in the original film were never well-rounded or nuanced, but it feels like the sequel draws them bigger and broader. This applies to the supporting cast as well. Kevin Spacey’s David Harken is even more of a generic corrupt executive rather than a control freak; Jennifer Aniston’s Julia Harris’ sexual aggression is now an addiction that everybody in the world seems to know about, to the point were she holds meetings in her dentist surgery.

Pining for success...

Pining for success…

Along with Jamie Foxx’s shifty operator, Jones, these characters crowd out the narrative. The bad guy here is Christoph Waltz’s Burt Hanson. However, we never learn anything much about Burt beyond the fact that he is a terrible father and a nasty business man. He cannot even aspire towards the caricature that defines the rest of the cast; he is more of plot function than a character.

To be fair, Chris Pine does a bit better as Rex, the errant son of the billionaire who manipulates his own kidnapping. Rex is never defined particularly well, but Pine gives the character a fast-talking charm. Pine’s stylings fit comfortably with the leading trio, which is all that Horrible Bosses 2 really needs. It often feels like it is driven more by a series of mad-libs than by a plot.

Some sequel action...

Some sequel action…

Still, this only really becomes a problem once the movie reaches its climax. The movie’s final sequences feel cluttered and over-stuffed, to a point where it seems like the script just wants the movie to end rather than paying off any long-running threads. It is an ending designed to speed the movie towards the closing credits, not necessarily to make the most sense.

Horrible Bosses 2 works better than it really should. Despite its very serious structural and plotting problems, it commits itself to a machine-gun approach. With three solid comedic actors in the lead roles, Horrible Bosses 2 rattles off enough one-liners and set-ups to keep the audience giggling and smiling. There is a rapport among the cast that makes it seem like Horrible Bosses 2 was probably great fun to make, and that shows up on screen.

Horrible Bosses 2 is a film modest in its objectives, but with enough energy and enthusiasm that it never comes completely apart. It isn’t a stand out comedy sequel, but it is a charming diversion.

4 Responses

  1. I didn’t hate this movie as much as some. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. I mostly just got by on the few laughs I acquired by watching the cast at play. Good review.

    • Yep, I think it has received a very tough time from critics. It’s flawed. It’s not even particularly good. But it holds itself together, just about.

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