Horrible Bosses 2 belongs to that rare collection of comedy sequels that are as good, if not slightly better, than their successful predecessors. The jokes are recycled, but still come with a twisted kick. The comedic styles of the three leads continue to gel around the movie’s dark heart, and the newcomers bring a necessary spark. There are precious few examples of comedic franchises that continue to wring laughs out of their initial premise – there are more Caddyshack 2 than 22 Jump Street -- so when one comes along, we should take celebrate it, like an unexpected deal on Black Friday.
The plot of Horrible Bosses 2 finds three likeably hapless friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudekis) plotting to eliminate a superior who has done them wrong. Again. The trio hasn’t learned much from the mistakes of the previous film. They graduate from murder to kidnapping in this sequel – that might actually be a downgrade on the criminal spectrum – but not before experiencing some success.
As the movie begins, the guys have gone into business for themselves manufacturing a bathroom accessory called the Shower Buddy. But despite a disastrous demonstration on a morning info-tainment program (which features a scene-stealing line delivered by Keegan-Michael Key), the Shower Buddy catches the attention of slick corporate suit Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) and his slimy mogul father, Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). They place an order for 100,000 Shower Buddy units, leading Nick, Dale and Kurt to believe they are officially in business. That’s when the “horrible” part of the title kicks in.
Make no mistake, Horrible Bosses 2 suffers a case of “sequelitis,” going through familiar motions and recycling recognizable bits because they worked well the first time around. Sudekis’ character actually says, “Guys, the team’s back together,” and I cringed at the obvious sentiment of going back to the well for yet another dip.
Characters who survived the first movie are lured back into the fold in easy – but not necessarily cheap – ways. When the guys are overwhelmed by Bert’s business savvy, they choose to visit Nick’s old boss, Dave, allowing Kevin Spacey to shoot daggers from his eyeballs through the plate-glass window of a prison visitation room. Jamie Foxx cameos as the drink-sipping sage Muthafucka Jones, and his negotiation skills are as piss-poor as ever. Later, when the guys need a powerful sedative to drug the kidnapped Rex, they break into the dental office of Dale’s former boss, Julia, and Jennifer Aniston continues to push that character down sexually depraved avenues for the benefit of a shocking punchline. You’ll realize there’s no real reason for these characters to return for Horrible Bosses 2, while also accepting that it’s fun to be back in their presence, inhabiting this strange and demented corner of the crime-comedy landscape.
The reason the old blood isn’t as necessary is because director Sean Anders (That’s My Boy, Sex Drive) and his team of screenwriters replace them with equally despicable bosses that would have filled the void on their own. Waltz need only mutter his menacing threats in his clipped German accent to get the upper hand on a buffoon like Charlie Day. Chris Pine, however, is the standout, playing the spoiled Rex Hanson with a needy, clingy vanity that someone who looks like Chris Pine shouldn’t understand. He’s a welcome addition to this moronic team because underneath his dashing exterior beats the heart of a merry prankster who possesses excellent comedic timing (which rarely is called upon in the Star Trek movies that pay Pine’s bills).
The main reason Horrible Bosses 2 earns our attention, though, is because the chemistry shared between Bateman, Sudekis and Day remains intact. If you liked the way these three played off of each other in the first movie, you’ll appreciate their exaggerated interactions again. Day continues to ratchet up Dale’s insecurities, beginning with his sweating problem during the daytime talk show spot and ending with a Julia essentially raping him while he’s … well, I’ll leave that to be discovered. Bateman continues to milk his above-it-all persona, while Sudekis brings more of an idiot-frat-boy to Kurt, who I don’t remember being so painfully stupid in the first movie.
If the Horrible Bosses team knew what they were doing, though, they’d stop now. They got away with one funny sequel, giving us more time with the off-color characters we embraced (despite their faults) in the first movie while also coming up with just enough of a motivator to make Horrible Bosses 2 feel like less of a cheap cash grab. But you could start to see through the smokescreen in this one, and win or lose at the box office, Horrible Bosses 3 likely should never happen. As we walked out of our screening, a colleague asked my opinion. “It could have been worse. It could have been a new Hangover movie.” Let’s make sure this franchise ends on a high(ish) note, and doesn’t make that mistake.