There's a not-so-fine line between pushing the comedic envelope and blind bad taste. When sex-obsessed dentist Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) graphically fantasizes about two 14-year-old boys having sex at camp in HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, it's a wince-inducing moment.
Perhaps this pubescent fantasy could have been shoved out of our synapses if it took place in isolation. But this is a film that opens with an onanistic sight gag and the three lead characters' names—Nick, Kurt and Dale—being unwittingly conflated into a racial slur. It closes with Harris expressing her predilection for somnophilia.
In between are repeated rape references and racial stereotypes. But every sidelong N-word is OK because there's always a character of color around to chastise it, right? And when a rich prick demeans his Asian housekeeper, the film's idea of balance is to have her secretly soil the boss' toothbrush with her backside.
The fault lies squarely with writer-director Sean Anders, brought in to replace Seth Gordon, who helmed the surprisingly successful original about three put-upon pals who plot to kill their overbearing bosses. Anders' most recent directorial credit was the reprehensible Adam Sandler vehicle That's My Boy, and as a writer, Anders was last seen helping to sully the screenplays for Dumb and Dumber To, We're the Millers and Mr. Popper's Penguins.
In this sequel, the film's title becomes a misnomer. Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have escaped day-job drudgery to launch a startup manufacturing an invention called "The Shower Buddy." But after sinking their fortunes into churning out thousands of ablution aids, Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz), the product's exclusive millionaire retailer, reneges on their deal in order to acquire the invention on the cheap once the trio's business goes belly up.
To save their shirts and their company, Nick, Kurt and Dale decide to kidnap Rex (Chris Pine), Hanson's preening son, and hold him for ransom. The half-baked plot becomes more harebrained once Rex blackmails the guys into letting him join the scheme in exchange for a handsome share of the money.
The snappy comic chemistry that made the first Horrible Bosses a hit is still there: Sudeikis the horndog oaf, Bateman the slow-burning straight man, Day the manic motor-mouth. Pine acquits himself well, even though this spoiled brat with daddy-issues seems to be operating on another narrative plane. But Waltz was actually funnier in Django Unchained, and the presence of Jonathan Banks as a police detective only reminded me how much I hated the way Mike died in Breaking Bad.
Indeed, it's telling that anytime the film needs a shot in the arm, it calls back the supporting cast from the first film. Kevin Spacey has a grand ol' profane time as a now-jailed Dave Harken, but it's Jamie Foxx who steals every scene, returning as "MF" Jones, a hardened hood who harbors hopes of opening a Pinkberry franchise.
Unfortunately, the movie's sporadic chuckles never congeal into a memorable whole. And with its barrage of gay gags and other egregious overtones, that's probably for the best. —Neil Morris
This article appeared in print with the headline "Aiming high and low"