Instead of a scathing satire of today’s workplace, we get a phoned-in string of gags in Horrible Bosses 2

Meet the new boss

Horrible Bosses 2 / C-

In case you need your memory refreshed, the first Horrible Bosses was a marginally clever film about three likable morons (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day) who enter into a Strangers on a Train-style pact to kill off the trio of bosses (Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston) who are making their lives hell.

While Seth Gordon’s 2011 film never fully embraced the dark humor of its promising premise, its mix of big-name talent, clever plotting, and raunchy, almost-but-not-quite offensive humor made it a surprise box office hit, pulling in $200 million off a $35 million budget.

Was it such a comedic revelation that it warranted a sequel? Not really. But a six-to-one return on investment pretty much guaranteed a follow-up. And so you might think that maybe this time the filmmakers would go for broke and deliver a scathing black comedy that skewers the sociopathic behavior that runs rampant in today’s corporate workplace. And you’d be wrong. Not only is Horrible Bosses 2 uninterested in satirizing our country’s desperate state of economic uncertainty, it isn’t even interested in having any horrible bosses in it (the title notwithstanding). Instead, co-writers Sean Anders and John Morris (Hot Tub Time Machine) have thrown together a flimsy, barely serviceable plot as an excuse for lazy gay and race jokes punctuated by tired misogynistic gags. Occasionally, they approach a genuinely funny idea, but rather than running with it they grab at the lowest hanging (and usually crudest) fruit and call it a day.

This time out, best buds Nick, Kurt, and Dale (Bateman, Sudeikis, Day) go into business for themselves, hawking their SkyMall-type invention the “Shower Buddy.” After a fiasco debut on a local morning show, the three are amazed to learn that retail mogul Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) is interested in their product. Putting everything on the line, they successfully deliver a gigantic order only to find out they’ve been cheated. Desperate to save their company, they decide to kidnap Hanson’s douchebag son Rex (Chris Pine) and ransom him for enough money to clear their debts. Predictably, they are such incompetent criminals that they end up screwing up almost every step of their plan.

It’s actually less funny than it sounds. p>If you’ve seen the trailers, you’re probably wondering how the horrible bosses of the first movie fit into this horrible boss-free sequel. Well, Anders and Morris concoct the most threadbare of excuses to bring back Aniston, who once again gleefully sullies her wholesome persona with outrageously sexual behavior (which still earns a laugh or two), and Spacey, who quite literally, phones in his performance from behind a pane of prison glass (and probably with the script just out of frame). Neither character has anything to do with the plot, but both offer an unfortunate contrast to the ineffectualness of Waltz’s generic villain and Pine’s convincing but not at all funny sociopathic son. Even Jamie Foxx’s crime-advising Motherfucker Jones is marginalized, with only his hilariously unique bargaining style to generate a few chuckles.

Given these obvious and glaring deficits, it falls to Bateman, Sudeikis and Day to do much of the comedy heavy lifting. Unfortunately, try as they might, it’s a task they aren’t really up to. As characters, they’re barely sketched personalities, with only degrees of cluelessness to differentiate them. As speed-babbling idiots they have little in the way of natural comic chemistry. It’s a fact Bateman seems all-too aware of given his disinterested line delivery and obvious boredom with the material. At one point, one of the three — perhaps Bateman — tosses out an unfunny joke about how he likes the movie Predator too … not Predator 2, which was, of course, the terrible follow-up to the highly successful original. It’s an unintentional moment of meta commentary, forecasting the inevitable fate of Horrible Bosses 2 as a both a critical and box office failure. Or so one hopes.

Horrible Bosses 2 is rated R and has a run time of 108 minutes.

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