The Return of the Horrible (Studio) Bosses

The modern-day Stooges — Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) — have moved past their initial experiences with their horrible bosses but prove to be ill-prepared to step into boss roles of their own.

click to enlarge Horrible Bosses 2
Horrible Bosses 2

The modern-day Stooges — Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) — have moved past their initial experiences with their horrible bosses but prove to be ill-prepared to step into boss roles of their own. Could it be that they lack that horrible gene which made their former bosses despicable winners? With the sharky Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) in jail, Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell) at the great banquet table in Hell and Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) in sex addiction rehab, all of the standard-bearers appear to be gone, stranding the boys in the uncomfortable position of having to fend for themselves.

The primary problem that plagues Horrible Bosses 2 is not that it lacks a suitable corporate target for the spitballs and rubber band-propelled paperclips that Nick, Kurt and Dale will inevitably misfire; instead, we quickly come to realize that Nick, Kurt and Dale are little more than comic cyphers, barely sketched types not worth the flimsy cardboard they are made of. Left to their own devices, it becomes apparent that the trio has no devices to speak of, so they end up playing their half notes, gratingly, while waiting for someone else to provide real accompaniment.

The felonious fellas start out on the straight and narrow — with the dream of producing an all-in-one showerhead packed with liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner — but they wake up to the reality that they have been double-crossed by a shady businessman named Bert Hanson (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) and his nefarious son Rex (Chris Pine). With a massive loan on the verge of default and Hanson looming to scoop up their fledgling venture when it all goes into foreclosure, they have no choice but to embark on a horrendous kidnapping scheme — pitched to them by their criminal Yoda, Dean “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx) — that simply cannot go according to plan, mainly because these guys aren’t smart enough to spell the word “plan,” even if supplied with all of the letters in the correct order.

Bosses engages as much as it can thanks to the all too brief appearances by Foxx, Aniston and Spacey, because each of these characters reminds audiences of what’s missing in the small three at the center of the affair. Nick, Kurt and Dale aren’t fully realized characters. The first film succeeded on its term because we believed that these three guys were put-upon strivers, regular guys with the kind of problems that we could relate to on some level. They had something resembling lives and backstories that merited their outlandish attempts to gain a sense of respect and balance. Now, it would seem that Nick, Kurt and Dale have devolved into placeholders, waiting for the second movie to give them some reason to parade around in the hope that something might happen and bait us into laughing for a moment or two.

Co-writer/director Sean Anders (We’re the Millers), working from a script by committee — complete with credits for characters (Michael Markowitz), story (Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Sean Anders and John Morris) and screenplay (Anders and Morris), as if it took a team to create this crapterpiece — doesn’t so much “helm” this exercise as merely stand by documenting the lunatics gleefully running the asylum into the ground. Foxx plays Jones as if he’s ready to spinoff into his own movie, possibly setting up a scenario where the new entry would be far better than the franchise that spawned it, while Aniston appears to enjoy roleplaying a porn diva masquerading as a sex addict, which, in theory, is likely the smartest (and most accidental) idea in the whole movie. As for the newcomers, at least Pine gets to ham-and-cheese it up like a Formula One racer on a bumper car track.

The result, though, is that Bateman, Sudeikis and Day (who I genuinely like in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, although this shtick has almost run its course now) wind up playing dumb when each one of these guys has more than enough going on behind their eyes to let you know that they are too good for this material. Through sheer improvisation alone, the three of them could come up with some real snap, crackle and pop that might not reach the heights of The Three Stooges, but could make their outtakes from back in the day.

And it makes me especially sad when I recall Bateman’s joyously abrasive Bad Words and wonder how he could agree to appear in this truly horrible mess. (Opens wide Wednesday) (R)

Grade: D+


[email protected]