Friday, November 28, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2: Fire 'em all!

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) • View trailer 
2.5 stars. Rated R, for relentless profanity and crude sexual content

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.28.14

Director Sean Anders apparently was content to let this film’s three stars — Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day — babble through much of their obviously improvised, rapid-fire dialogue.

Oddly enough, Rex (Chris Pine, right) doesn't seem all that bothered after learning that our
inept heroes — from left, Dale (Charlie Day), Nick (Jason Bateman) and Kurt (Jason
Sudeikis) — planned to kidnap him. Seems that Rex has his own issues with his wealthy,
overbearing father...
Sometimes the results are amusing.

Usually ... not.

Dumb-bunny comedies often aren’t nearly as funny as those involved seem to think, and that’s definitely the case here. Nor are the “even funnier” out-takes, which unspool over the closing credits, as uproarious as Bateman, Sudeikis, Day and their co-stars want us to believe.

This film’s 2011 predecessor was pretty thin gruel to begin with: a potty-mouthed waste of time and talent that was little more than a race to the tasteless bottom by all involved. The notion that it did enough business to warrant a sequel is astonishing, but Hollywood — as always — lives by the quote often attributed to H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

And so here we are, with a second dose of Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day).

This new entry is slightly better, thanks to the presence of co-star Chris Pine. He thoroughly embraces his gleefully condescending, spoiled rich guy role with a breezy élan that adds momentum to this fitful comedy every time he pops into a scene. He’s genuinely funny, and manages to be such without relying on the vulgarity that’s pretty much everybody else’s sole defining character trait.

The plot, then:

Having decided that working for “horrible bosses” undervalues their true potential, Nick, Kurt and Dale have become entrepreneurs with their own home care product: the so-called “Shower Buddy,” just the sort of gadget that pops up on late-night TV commercials for $19.95. Their effort to promote this item on a local morning chat show doesn’t quite work as expected, but the exposure does bring them to the attention of father-and-son investors Bert and Rex Hanson (Christoph Waltz and Pine).

Overjoyed by an initial order of 100,000 units, our three stooges overlook the cautionary step of obtaining a down payment in order to fund this massive production run. Bert subsequently cancels the order — which he intended to do all along — knowing full well that Nick, Kurt and Dale will be forced to foreclose. At that point, the Hansons will scoop up the entire company and all those Shower Buddies at fire-sale prices.

It’s merely standard-issue corporate raider behavior, which Bert cheerfully acknowledges, knowing full well that our hapless idiots can’t do anything about it.

Not that they go down quietly. After first trying for help from the incarcerated and angrily uncooperative Dave (Kevin Spacey) — jailed after his behavior in the previous film — they once again wind up seeking advice from the shady Dean “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx). The result: a hare-brained scheme to kidnap Rex and hold him for ransom.

The plan requires something capable of rendering their potential victim unconscious, so Dale naturally thinks of the nitrous oxide canisters at the dental office where he used to work beneath the oversexed Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Which means that she’ll also get involved in what comes next.

Needless to say, the plan goes awry a bit ... but that’s all right, because Rex proves an oddly cooperative kidnap victim. From this point forward, things get even crazier.

While discussing the first film in this I-hope-they-stop-at-two series, I complained about the utter absence of character detail granted our three leads. That hasn’t changed. Sudeikis’ Kurt still lets his libido call all the shots, and Day’s moronic Dale still screeches like a hyperactive chipmunk. Dale used to be the only truly dumb one in this trio, but Kurt apparently has devolved to his level; now they’re both motormouth idiots.

And, yes, Bateman’s Nick remains the long-suffering voice of reason: once again the bland leading the blind-stupid.

Nick and Kurt still have nothing approaching home lives; as far as we can tell, they simply show up for each scene in this movie, unencumbered by girlfriends, siblings or other family members. Dale, at least, has a wife and infant triplet daughters: a cursory detail good for a few giggles.

Waltz has fun riffing on his ability to look sinister at the blink of an eye; the cleavage-enhanced Aniston does nothing but demand sexual congress in ways that might make even the editor of Penthouse Letters blush.

Needless to say, the relentless F-bombs, coarse one-liners and sniggering sex jokes quickly get overexposed and become tedious. Part of humor is context, and you’ll find very little of that here.

I can’t imagine Anders actually “directing” this film; it looks like he just sat back and let everybody do whatever occurred to them at a given moment. He also shares scripting credit with three other writers — John Morris, Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley — and it’s difficult to imagine so many hands being required to orchestrate this free-for-all.

But, yes, a few things are genuinely funny or clever:

• The eventual actual plan hatched to separate Bert Hanson from his money, a “foolproof” caper that we first witness as imagined, à la Gambit, and then see as it actually unfolds once our heroes put it into practice;

• Jamie Foxx’s dry delivery, and the divide between Jones’ tough-guy persona, and his desire to open a Pinkberry franchise;

• A third-act car chase with a truly hilarious finale; and

• Every scene that involves Pine. He simply steals the show (not that much effort was required, but still).

As for the rest, well ... if you purchased tickets for Dumb and Dumber To, or rejoiced a few years back when the 20-disc Three Stooges Ultimate Collection debuted, then you’ll no doubt get some kicks and grins here.

Otherwise, let the buyer beware.

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