Rating:About 20 minutes into Horrible Bosses 2, I had a realization: I barely remembered the first movie. Sure, could recall the general premise that Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis work for the titular employers and that they basically stumble into a life of crime and stuff happens but it ends okay and Jamie Foxx is there too. But as the characters of the levelheaded idealist Nick (Bateman), dimwitted bro Kurt (Sudeikis) and even more dimwitted family man Dale (Day) are re-introduced on a morning talk show hawking their new product “The Shower Buddy,” I couldn’t really say why these guys are friends or where their product came from or even what happened to their bosses. It took quite a while for me to remember that Colin Ferrell, who, since he had the worst hair, was the most distinctive horrible boss, had been shot to death previously.
But honestly, what amusement Horrible Bosses 2 offers doesn’t really require a lot of back story. The movie work in the Three Stooges mode of comedy, its protagonists continually squabbling and getting in their own way while creating greater and greater chaos (for the record: Nick is Moe, Kurt is Larry and Dale is Curly). Whether you enjoy the film will greatly depend on whether you find three idiots endlessly bickering to be amusing; fortunately for everyone who will watch, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day have charisma to spare and are individually watchable enough to mostly compensate for a limp plot. As it is, director Sean Anders (taking over for Seth Gordon) parcels out the story quickly and efficiently, almost to the point of nonchalance. Basically, the trio go into business with billionaire Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine), only to be outmaneuvered and prepped for a hostile takeover by the seemingly good-natured industrialist. They decide to kidnap his oafish son and…well, the phrase “hijinks ensue” exists for a reason.
Many comedic sequels essentially exist to double down on the jokes, trusting that if audiences laughed the first time, they’ll laugh twice as hard the second time. Horrible Bosses 2 is no exception. Dale shrieks just as much, Kurt cluelessly hits on women and Nick acts bemused; there’s no character development from the first film and no real sense that these men have any lives outside their work. Even Dale’s wife and trio of infant daughters are basically just mentioned periodically to give him a sense of stakes. But that is not what the film is going for, so perhaps we should judge it on its own merits.
The problem is, there’s not much merit to judge from either. Waltz is given far too little screen time, but kills it every time he appears; Pine’s kidnapped son is played as so bratty that he decides to go along with the plan, but the movie can’t decide whether to humanize him or not; Kevin Spacey pops up briefly to remind us all of how amazing he is at being contemptuous. But the film is mostly just filled with recycled jokes about how dumb Kurt and Dale are (which sometimes approaches the level of brain damage) and repetitions of Foxx’s odd negotiation tactics. No matter how much energy the trio brings to the table, it doesn’t hide the fact that they’re not bringing anything new.