Starring: Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Charlie Day (Pacific Rim), Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Jennifer Aniston (Office Space), Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Director: Sean Anders (That’s My Boy)
Writers: Sean Anders & John Morris (Hot Tub Time Machine)
Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes
Release Date: 26 November (US), 28 November (UK)
If you remember back to my 22 Jump Street review, I mentioned how sequels to comedies are the hardest to pull off and the most likely to fail. A joke is never as funny the second time you tell it, and the best way to get people laughing again is to change it up in a way that makes it feel like an extension of the joke rather than just the same joke. Horrible Bosses 2 doesn’t do that, at least not enough.
In terms of formula, Horrible Bosses 2 doesn’t stray too far from the ideas established in the first film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If they kept the same structure but then mixed up key plot points in unexpected ways, the sense of familiarity would be kept whilst still providing opportunity for new material. Whilst the film does have one key plot development when Chris Pine’s character becomes a bigger part of the story that does shake things up nicely, the story is otherwise mostly the same but bigger and crazier; the classic mistake of the comedy sequel. The samey plot could be excused if there were laughs to be had, but Horrible Bosses 2 is surprisingly short on those too. I laughed hard maybe once as well as a few chuckles sprinkled throughout, but that’s nowhere near enough for a film that runs nearly two hours long. Without enough good gags, the pacing slows to a crawl far too often and makes the whole experience feel even longer. I remember checking my watch at one point, thinking the film was nearly over, but it was only halfway through; that is never a good sign. Combine all that with the same amount of “lame excuses to cover up plot holes” like in all dumb comedies, a checklist of jokes that come off as both sexist, homophobic or both, and an abrupt ending that leaves our heroes in a state arguably worse than the one they started out with, and you’ve got yourself Horrible Bosses 2.
Any great comedy relies far more on its characters than its plot, and that’s Horrible Bosses 2’s main problem: its characters just don’t work anymore. In the first film, the trio of Bateman, Day and Sudeikis were naïve and inept but more believably so. They would do stupid things, but it came off as more natural. In the sequel, however, everything has been over-exaggerated to the point of annoyance, and our main characters feel more like they belong in a bad sitcom than a feature film. 75% of their humour involves Day and/or Sudeikis saying something stupid and getting caught up in themselves, Bateman pointing out how stupid they are, and then either the pair calm down or they go too far and cause trouble. It’s a routine that gets tired super quick, and the fact that our heroes have become so cartoonish that they’re now unrelatable puts a major damper on the fun. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast is given barely anything to do and most of it is just padding. Jennifer Aniston’s character has gone from hilarious to genuinely creepy and her role could have easily been cut, Kevin Spacey is only in two equally pointless scenes just to pick up a pay check, Jamie Foxx basically does the exact same shtick he did in the last one with no change, and the great Christoph Waltz is completely wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone. Only Chris Pine seems to be trying in an archetypical but humorous role, but he doesn’t become important enough until about halfway through and then he ends up doing exactly what you expect him to do. There’s just a general lack of passion throughout, and if our main characters don’t seem that into what’s happening on screen, why should we be invested?
I will give Horrible Bosses 2 this: some of the visual gags are well executed. A scene where Day’s character has to keep changing his hiding spot in a cupboard is funny, a certain character reveal near the end is cleverly done through good camera work, the film’s twist on the “planning a heist” cliché is unique and full of flair like overly flashy cinematography and transitions, and a car chase near the end is interrupted by a snicker-worthy moment of awkward silence. It is elements like these that make me wonder where all this ingenuity was for the other 85% of the film. Otherwise, it looks and feels like generic comedy filmmaking, with the same bland colour scheme, forgettable score and an heavy reliance on overplayed Top 40 pop and rap songs for the soundtrack (a running gag in the film involves Katy Perry’s “Roar”. I don’t know what’s worse: how obvious that it’ll play into the plot later, or how annoying it is to have to hear that bloody song over and over again).
Horrible Bosses 2 changes things up enough to avoid being in a The Hangover Part II-type situation, but it still makes plenty of the same mistakes that all bad comedy sequels do. It sticks far to close to the formula of the first, the only major change is that everything is bigger and more exaggerated, and by doing so it makes its characters so dumb and annoying that completely negates the humour. I did laugh a few times, but I equally found myself smacking my forehead in annoyance of how stupid these characters were sometimes. If you’re a fan of the first film, it might be worth a look when it comes out on Blu-Ray, but other than that you should stay far away.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/10