It was “The Little Film That Could.” Back in 2011, Horrible Bosses - a film with three leads who were far less famous than their eponymous bosses and made on a (relatively) shoestring budget - ended up as a box office darling, raking in $209 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing black comedy in history. It was hardly Oscar material, but something about three lovable schlubs who despised their jobs and daydreamed about homicide largely won over fans and critics alike, with vanity-free performances from Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell as the pure embodiments of employer evil, plus a star turn by Jamie Foxx as the feloniously inclined and tall tale-telling, Motherfucker Jones.
So three years on, and a sequel later, is Horrible Bosses 2 a worthy follow up or is it a cynical money-spinner? Well, it’s faster, flashier and more confident than its predecessor with bigger and brighter set-pieces - such as a nerve-wracking chase scene involving a chain link fence and an elaborate fantasy sequence where the guys imagine pulling off the perfect heist like the suave criminals they’re not. The comedy is also there from the word go, with a Carry On set-up that makes it look like Dale (Charlie Day) is performing a sex act on Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) on live morning TV, which is juvenile but still funny, as well as the three of them unwittingly forming a company name that sounds like a terrible racial slur. There are some great one liners, and the quick repartee between the trio is one of the highlights, as is Jamie Foxx’s cameo as Mofo Jones and his acerbic put-downs.
Unfortunately, the pros stop there and the cons are numerous. The three leads are dumber and flatter than before to the point that they stop being believable, and the shrill vocal register of hamster-faced Dale is overused, with him shrieking his way through scenes. The plot, though more dynamic, follows the same dramatic arc as the first film, meaning you can see the twists coming from a mile off. This time, the guys want to be their own bosses and invent a product they hope to manufacture and make their fortune with - the ambiguously named ‘Shower Buddy’. This catches the eye of billionaire investor Bert Hanson, played by Christoph Waltz in a role he’s wasted in, and his spoilt, jerk-off son (Chris Pine), channeling his inner Tyler Durden, and it looks like the guys are going to be living on easy street. But then Bert cancels his massive order of units, leaving the boys half a mil in the hole and likely to go bankrupt, just so he can buy their company for peanuts. And as exactly in the first film, the guys decide to take revenge, seek advice from Motherfucker, the plan spirals out of control, culminating in a chase scene and a showdown with the police, guns and their nemesis. Sound familiar?
Not content with rehashing the storyline, characters from the first film are dragged back in to reprise their roles too. Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), Nick’s sadistic boss, is still menacing him from behind bars, thanks to a two-way phone and plexiglass, and sexual predator Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) still makes time to terrorise Dale in between hosting sex addicts anon meetings at her practice - in reality, a sham to reel in new lovers. Their extended cameos are ultimately pointless, with their subplots having little to no bearing on the main thrust of the action. Aniston’s dentist in particular is more sordid and profane than before - and you’ve got to give the woman credit for being such a trooper in the role - but the novelty of a hot woman lusting after her nerdy underling has gone stale and verges on the unacceptable; a scene close to the end has her reveal that she raped one of the characters while he was unconscious and now she’s jonesing for his wife. It’s a sinister and shocking confession which leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It’s one thing to laugh at Kurt’s childish petulance when he realises he can’t sleep with any of the gorgeous but unqualified women he’s just hired, it’s another thing to find rape amusing.
As if that wasn’t enough, adding to its list of sins are the racial stereotypes thrown about, with Rex (Pine) putting on an insulting oriental accent with which to mock his housekeeper, and the guys hiring a black man with a criminal record and a Latina woman who can’t speak English as unskilled factory workers. Some of this damage is redressed in Motherfucker’s mockery of the guys, accusing them of only being able to see the K’s on the sight chart when they get their eyes checked, in a reference to white supremacy, and a hilarious riff where he mocks their mannerisms by doing his impression of a white, middle-class male. But this just isn’t enough in a film where all the main characters are white, and the only ethnic minority characters are uneducated or criminal.
What would’ve been a fun if unoriginal romp is ultimately brought low by molestation and racist humour, making it as its name suggests, kind of horrible.