Horrible Bosses 2 is the kind of sequel that takes characters people generally liked the first time out, hands them to a new creative team, and then fails to make anything worthwhile narratively, neglecting to tell actual jokes or to make the characters endearing. Gone are the bumbling and mostly innocent knuckleheads from Horrible Bosses, replaced with stunted, pale imitations. The gang Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) proceed to bumble around committing actual offenses, played off as jokes, while struggling to commit an actual crime for the right reasons.
Following up on the last events as the gang failed in their attempt to Strangers on a Train their bosses but fail for the most part. You know, Strangers on a Train, the movie where some strangers met on a train and agreed to kill each other’s enemies? Now without the bosses that made their lives horrible, they’ve moved on to become more responsible adults or at least Dale has in that he’s now a father. As far as I can tell Nick and Kurt remain the same. Nick is the wet blanket who is still haunted by his old boss (the one played by Kevin Spacey) and Kurt still likes sex which is his only real trait. But tired of working for other people they decide to create their own business to sell the Shower Buddy, an automated soap and shampoo dispenser. The product attracts interest from investors, the gang is able to get a loan as a result and they start a well intentioned company (cue scene of Kurt hiring every attractive woman without experience and then finding he can’t sleep with them).
When billionaire Burt Hanson, played by an underused Christoph Waltz, cheats the gang out of money by refusing to buy the products he ordered (the company will go out of business and then he can buy everything including the patent for less than if he produced the products) , the three seek revenge by kidnapping his son, Rex Hanson, who is played by an absolutely fantastic Chris Pine. But as the gang botches their mission to kidnap Rex because they get knocked out with laughing gas that they stole from Dale’s old boss, the sex addict Dr. Harris (Jennifer Aniston), they quickly find Rex seeking revenge against his father along with his own fortune by forcing them to commit to the kidnapping plan with his help – because you don’t need to worry about the kidnapping victim escaping if he is on your side. They get money, he gets more money and they get a vastly simpler kidnapping target.
Over the course of the movie though, the level of just absolutely lazy debauchery and reliance on gay panic jokes grates on all but the weakest senses of humor for a majority of the film. Dr. Harris, the sex addicted former boss of Dale returns. Remember, she was the one who sexually assaulted him and blackmailed him into having sex but it was funny because she’s hot. Well, she reappears in a sex addicts anonymous meeting where she preys on gay men and when Bateman gets caught up in a scheme to steal laughing gas from the office, he pretends to be gay on accident (cue laugh track when he thinks he’s at Alcoholics Anonymous) and then learns of her infatuation with gay men so he commits to the lie to have sex with a woman who …ok I need to break here. Nick lies about who he is to have sex with Dr. Harris.
This is literally non-consensual sex because she only wanted to have sex with him because she thought he was gay which is bad enough but this is Nick having non-consensual sex with a sex addict who is actively in a group that is theoretically there for recovery. Cue the shitty people laugh track. And not only do they frequently refer to Nick as gay throughout the movie because of this, but towards the end of the film you find out that Dr. Harris literally does rape an unconscious Dale (cue buddies trying to give him a high five) and then proceeds to hint that she’s going to have sex with his wife. And of course it is all played for laughs because she’s an attractive woman but really this shit is messed up. Like Dale frequently turns her down in this movie and the one before because he’s a committed husband and father. It is just poorly thought out writing because she isn’t played as anything but a joke anymore, unlike in the first movie where she was seen as a legitimate threat which was why Dale considered killing her.
The story flops around quite a bit burning up a lot of time making sure that they bring back old cast members. Rex Hanson’s maid sticks his toothbrush in her but just like Kurt did to his boss in the first movie. Cue laugh track. Kevin Spacey chews scenery in a horribly written scene as Nick’s now incarcerated boss who says they have no balls when they ask him for advice on dealing with Burt Hanson. Cue laugh track. Jamie Foxx returns as Motherfucker Jones with a new load of non-stereotypical references and interests and his returning inability to bargain. Cue laugh track and people renting 9 To 5, the only film where people succeeded in blackmailing their boss. While there are a smattering of other appearances like Jonathan Banks as a grizzled police detective and Keegan-Michael Key as a morning show host so they can make “edgy” racial jokes (the company is called Nick Kurt Dale, read it out loud), neither of them really are allowed to establish much personality or character, existing solely for the recognition factor. Cue laugh track.
The main feature that saves the film is the climactic heist scene in the third act when the gang finally plans to get the ransom money where the humor is more situation based instead of relying on the same overused jokes as before. The action is genuinely exciting and the movie does a great job of building a heist plan and watching it fall apart making it the only rewarding bit of the movie (minus Charlie Day trying to speak using fake accents when the gang calls to blackmail Hanson). It shows more of what could be done if the movie wasn’t so complacent to waste time on soft targets for the general viewing audience.
Unlike the first film where the gang were mostly riffing on each other and were united by their indignity, here things just seem to get out of control and the targets seem more like the writer’s hangups and easy ways to get a laugh than anything the characters from the first movie would say or do. Maybe the end credits note that the movie uses characters based on those by Michael Markowitz shows the disconnect – these aren’t even the characters he created, these are the B-list knockoffs. Where the guys used to riff on each other, they don’t do it as much except for gay panic jokes. Where they used to have some level of depth that made the first movie interesting, here they are reduced to one note characters replaying the parts over and over to – well it is hard to have diminishing returns when the movie has a low bar for humor. It isn’t a movie about 3 guys forced to extremes, it is a movie where 3 people decide crime is the easy way out and then try to make a quick buck while avoiding consequences while just being absolutely horrible people, though if their goal was to become their own boss, maybe it makes sense that they too are Horrible Bosses.