Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In Theaters: HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014)

(US - 2014)

Directed by Sean Anders. Written by Sean Anders and John Morris. Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Banks, Keegan-Michael Key, Lindsay Sloane, Kelly Stables, Lennon Parham, Rob Huebel. (R, 108 mins)

As pointless sequels go, HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 isn't as stultifyingly unfunny as last year's ANCHORMAN 2, but in its own way, it's just as depressing. ANCHORMAN 2 was astoundingly bad, but that was due as much to the material as the creators' monumental self-indulgence and the misguided belief that what they were doing was setting new standards in comedic brilliance. After one of the most prolonged and aggressively obnoxious ad campaigns in cinema history, ANCHORMAN 2 was a stunning misfire that Ron Burgundy fans would rather just avoid discussing than admit how terrible it really is, and though I'm sure a burgeoning cult of apologists will someday declare it Will Ferrell's Pinkerton, it's a reassessment that's been very slow in its formation. But if nothing else, for all its infinite faults, ANCHORMAN 2 had ambition, whereas HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is coasting from the start. Were there really enough unanswered questions and dangling plot threads from HORRIBLE BOSSES to justify a sequel? The 2011 original was an inspired and darkly hilarious look at three average guys reaching their breaking points with their abusive, asshole bosses.  It was a funny and mean farce that allowed the actors in the title roles--Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey--to let it rip in ways they never had onscreen before, with the possible exception of Spacey, who was cast because he's so good at playing this kind of asshole. There's really nowhere to take HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, so nowhere is exactly where it goes. File it with the likes of CADDYSHACK II, WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II, and BLUES BROTHERS 2000 on the list of thoroughly disposable, instantly forgettable sequels that everyone involved--from the cast to the intended audience--approaches with a sigh and a shrug like it's a clock-punching obligation.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day), having extricated themselves from the clutches of the titular trio of supervisors, have gone into business for themselves by patenting the "Shower Buddy," a shower apparatus that dispenses shampoo, soap, and water all in one function. Looking to manufacture the item domestically and provide made-in-America jobs, they're wooed by catalog retailing magnate Bert Hansen (Christoph Waltz), who promises them some start-up money for a factory and an initial order of 100,000 units in exchange for exclusive retailing rights. Upon completion of the order, Hansen abruptly cancels it, which will send the trio into bankruptcy, at which point Hansen will buy them out for pennies on the dollar, own the patent, and set up a manufacturing deal with a Chinese factory. Enraged, Nick, Kurt, and Dale attempt to collect a hefty ransom by kidnapping Hansen's dude-bro son Rex (Chris Pine), who hates his father and becomes an unintended partner in the plot to extort him.

Of course, assorted hijinks ensue in order to pad the paper-thin plot and clumsily work in Aniston, Spacey, and Jamie Foxx, also returning as the trio's sage criminal advisor Dean "Motherfucker" Jones (fortunately for Farrell, his character was killed by Spacey's in the first film, thus sparing him from any phoned-in participation here). Spacey has two brief scenes probably shot in half a day, delivering a couple of Spacey-esque takedowns weakened by his wandering eyes clearly reading cue cards, but Aniston and Foxx have about as much to do here as Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd in CADDYSHACK II. Both make fleeting appearances early on, with Kurt and Dale breaking into Aniston's nympho dentist's office to steal laughing gas only to find she's now running a sex addiction group as a way to hook up with fellow sex addicts, and both are awkwardly squeezed into the third act to beef up their screen time. Foxx's Motherfucker Jones at least gets to take part in a climactic car chase but Aniston has nothing to do except be the center of a potential four-way as Nick, Kurt, and Dale have an endless debate over which of them gets "face, puss, or butt." Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis don't even seem to be playing the same characters from the first film. Because there's nowhere for the writers to take them, they go with the easiest option: making them louder and dumber.  Day, in particular, resorts to screeching his way through, dialing it up to 11 and grating in ways that even the most fanatical IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA fan will find hard to take. Sudeikis also consistently mistakes yelling for actual comedy and gets to do an extended riff on his "Maine Justice" judge from SNL, while Bateman, again cast as the Michael Bluth-ian voice of reason (in other words, "Jason Bateman"), just looks tersely irritable throughout, like he'd rather be anywhere else.

None of the behind-the-scenes personnel from HORRIBLE BOSSES made the return trip, with the reins handed to the writing team of John Morris and Sean Anders, with Anders directing. This pair also had a hand in scripting SEX DRIVE (2008), HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010), the surprisingly good WE'RE THE MILLERS (2013) and the recent DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014), but fail to bring anything interesting to the table with HORRIBLE BOSSES 2. It's never egregiously terrible, but it's bland, repetitive, and worst of all, dull. And what would a present-day studio comedy be without a montage set to The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now?" or '70s and '80s FM radio staples used for lazily ironic laughs, in this case, Toto's "Hold the Line" and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "If You Leave"?  "I guess that'll do," seems to be this film's mission statement. The very definition of "perfunctory," it's the kind of movie you'll have already forgotten about by the time you exit the multiplex. Even the end-credits bloopers are boring, except for one crack Sudeikis makes regarding Bateman's acting that ends up being the one legitimate laugh-out-loud moment in the entire film.

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