There’s a running gag in Horrible Bosses 2 about how Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) uses the Katy Perry song “Roar” as his ringtone, to get him pumped up about the business he’s starting with his buddies Dale (Charlie Day) and Nick (Jason Bateman). At one point, while debating the merit of this technique, Dale marvels: “When you’re in a good mood, it’s a good song. When you’re in a bad mood, it’s a bad song. That’s art.” It may or may not be art, but it’s definitely Horrible Bosses 2: a comedy borderline enough for a good mood to make it pass as agreeably silly and for a bad mood to turn it into a sloppy retread.
Jason Sudeikis, for one, seems to be in a good mood; his best and most reliable shtick has him applying a wide-eyed, easily led enthusiasm for whatever’s happening to him at that very moment. In the first movie, wherein the central trio conspired to murder one another’s life-destroying supervisors, Sudeikis was ostensibly playing the horndog lothario. The sequel uses scraps of that persona, but mostly has him bound through its new amateur-crime farce with indefatigable good spirits, happy to play along no matter how ill-advised the idea or incompetent the execution (on either side of the camera). He makes dopey agreeability infectious.
Much of Horrible Bosses 2 depends on the chemistry between Sudeikis and his co-stars, and their chemistry apparently depends on their willingness to talk over each other whenever possible. (The movie admits as much when a minor character remarks that he “got a little lost with all their yammering.”) Sudeikis and Day can certainly be funny egging on the other’s stupidity, and Bateman can be funny issuing dry, barely heard rejoinders, but their cacophonous dialogue doesn’t allow for much variation in the movie’s comic rhythms.
The stars need to keep their mouths running because the movie’s narrative engine keeps idling. The basic premise finds the three friends attempting to build their own business, then seeking revenge on Bert (Christoph Waltz) and Rex (Chris Pine), father-son businessmen who are about to ruin them. They concoct a half-assed plan to kidnap Rex and hold him for ransom, but the son proves willing to cooperate in any potential destruction of his father. The various accompanying schemes involve negotiations and encounters with a handful of supporting characters from the first movie, and the movie’s many false starts and dead ends are supposed to be wacky fun. Instead, they add up to an amiable meander of a first half.
The first movie wasn’t a model of economy, either, but its central hook gave each hero a clear antagonist before sending him off and bumbling. Here, the generically evil Waltz, who has been funny in so many straighter villain roles, does even less comedy than his already wan predecessors. (Weirdly, the horrible bosses of this series have never been all that memorable.) Pine, though, fares better once he jumps into the action, adding the faintest glimmer of danger to the group. Director Sean Anders, taking over for Seth Gordon, does sometimes break from the yammering and gay-sex innuendos (not especially homophobic but not all that funny, either) for bursts of visual humor. He sets up occasional goofs on visual clichés, like three heads peaking out from around a corner or dudes performing a badass slow-motion walk, and his lens-flared enactment of the group’s most elaborate plan both expands the movie’s palette and sets up some funny contrast jokes later on.
Even the funny stuff is pretty ephemeral, though. The laughs don’t linger, even within individual scenes. What remains, reinforced by a set of end-credit outtakes, is the sense that Sudeikis, Day, Bateman, and Pine had a really good time making a sort of okay movie. On set, Horrible Bosses 2 might have even seemed like art.