Unless some hidden straight-to-video gem exists, “Horrible Bosses 2” stands alone as a raunchy-comedy sequel that’s superior to its predecessor.
One by one, others disappointed, with “Dumb and Dumber To” recently joining the likes of “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” and “This Is 40,” a quasi-official sequel to “Knocked Up” that officially stank.
Recapturing a broad comedy’s magic can be tough. These personality- and improv-driven films often lack a discernible structure from which to draw.
But “Bosses,” a modestly budgeted 2011 film that became a box-office sensation, had a structure. Beneath its outrageous moments and storytelling flab, it was a caper comedy, about three likable, relatable guys (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) in untenable work situations who decide to off one another’s bosses.
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“Bosses 2” director and co-screenwriter Sean Anders, taking over from the first film’s director, Seth Gordon, hits hard on the caper quality and gets rid of the flab. The result is a snappier film with more minute-to-minute laughs than the first one, which took bigger swings but missed more often.
The sequel showcases the crack comic timing of its leads while underscoring their characters’ foolhardiness rather than the injustices they encounter – the first film’s emphasis. The comedy of “Bosses 2” rests on men who are architects of their own misfortune.
In the first film, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) were hapless, but mostly situationally, after they got in over their heads with the murder plots. In “Bosses 2,” they’re idiots from start to finish.
Sudeikis goes through the film with the open expression of someone never troubled by deep thoughts or perhaps any thought at all. Day is his anxious counterpoint. Dale brims with ideas, all of them misguided, most eventually vocalized at the wrong moment.
Nick, the trio’s Moe, is marginally brighter, if only because no amount of character dumbing down will knock the voice-of-reason out of Bateman.
Much of the trio’s dialogue involves who messes up the most, with Nick admonishing Dale for using his real name as they communicate on Dora the Explorer walkie-talkies. Someone could be listening.
That might not sound all that funny. Yet it is, because the three actors give something extra to this and every scene. And a shot of a grown man speaking angrily into a child’s toy is just one of many effective sight gags.
The walkie-talkies come into play because Nick, Dale and Kurt have decided to kidnap the son (Chris Pine) of a corporate boss (Christoph Waltz) who wronged them.
Nick, Dale and Kurt now work for themselves, having invented a device that disperses shampoo along with water in the shower. Waltz’s character, Bert Hanson, orders 100,000 units for his chain of home-goods stores. Our trio then goes to great expense to produce the units, despite lacking a written contract.
Hanson cancels the order and tells the dupes he will wait for them to go under, so he can buy them out for pennies on the dollar.
Two-time Oscar winner Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”) phones in his performance. This means it’s still pretty good. Pine’s role is larger, and he plays on the ambiguity of his ice-blue eyes, which can be conduits for handsomeness or evil.
The kidnapping plot, granted, offers only a slight variation on the first film’s plot. But given that Anders has improved on the first film in so many ways, including its visuals, we forgive him this.
Anders orchestrates a chase scene that is rather sophisticated for a broad comedy. A nicely shot, well-edited montage sequence also contributes to a sense of this being a far more polished affair than the first movie.
Though “Horrible Bosses” offered an inspired concept (in turn inspired by “Strangers on a Train,” which it acknowledged in character dialogue), its individual scenes lasted too long, with hit-and-miss jokes. The film also presented too many instances of its egregious boss characters being egregious.
Two of those bosses – the finance-world shark (Kevin Spacey) who harangued Nick and the filthy-mouthed dentist (Jennifer Aniston) who sexually harassed Dale – are back. But in smaller and more effective doses.
Jamie Foxx also returns, to entertaining effect, as the trio’s criminal adviser, who still keeps office hours at the bar where they discovered him in “Horrible Bosses.”
The first film caught on ($209 million in worldwide box office) partly because it pushed comic boundaries, with the dentist’s behavior crossing every line of taste. When “Bosses 2” tries to test taste limits, the scenes feel forced. Not so much in content, since there’s no shocking after the first film, but execution. The setups are too elaborate for a comedy that thrives on little moments.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day
Director: Sean Anders
Rated R (strong crude sexual content and language throughout)