Jason Bateman has had one of the most welcome career resurrections of the last ten or fifteen years. After burning bright and fast as a teen star, he seemed destined to be remembered simply as Justine Bateman’s younger brother until a little show called Arrested Development came knocking.
Following his pointed performance as Michael Bluth, Bateman began stealing the spotlight in guest roles in middling comedies like Dodgeball and The Break-Up, before showing himself to be a mature and complex leading man. The Kingdom, Juno, State of Play, Up in the Air, and The Switch were each among their year’s best and with them, Bateman proved himself to be among the best in his field. 2014 has been an especially productive for him, with Horrible Bosses 2 being his fourth film of the year. Unfortunately, Horrible Bosses 2 may also be his fourth-worst of the year.
A mash-up of Strangers on a Train and 9 to 5, Horrible Bosses was an unexpected success with both audiences and critics in 2011. The tale of Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) exacting revenge on their titular superiors (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston, respectively) struck a chord with comedy fans who enjoyed both the plot’s wish fulfillment and the ribald farce of the characters’ bumbling execution.
Horrible Bosses 2 doesn’t tackle the same plot, as other recent sequels like Dumb and Dumber To did, but that doesn’t stop it from pandering to what it thinks the audience wants. Seemingly unsure of why the first movie was such a smash, it tries to shoehorn every actor from the first movie into the second, despite there not being any real need for any of them.
Now trying to make it on their own as the inventors of the Shower Buddy (the bathing equivalent of the soap-and-sprinkler wand at self-serve car washes), Nick, Kurt, and Dale fall victim to conniving investor Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his cocky son Rex (Chris Pine), who plan to leave them three half a million in debt and without the rights to their invention.
Considering themselves mild successes in criminality after the original movie, Nick, Kurt, and Dale decide to kidnap Rex and hold him hostage for the $500,000. They quickly chicken out, but Rex insists on staying kidnapped. Sick of his father, he sends a random note to his father upping the price to five million dollars and blackmails the trio into going along with his plan, for a million of the reward.
There’s really no need for Jamie Foxx’s criminal advisor to be involved. There’s even less reason for Jennifer Aniston’s recovering sex addict to be involved. That doesn’t stop the unfunny script from cramming them both in there. Hell, Kevin Spacey’s sociopathic character spends the whole sequel in jail, completely separated from the plot of the movie, yet the movie still feels the need to trot him out a couple of times.
That desire to remind audiences of all their favourite parts of Horrible Bosses is symptomatic of the desperation and overall laziness of the movie’s screenplay. While there are a few moments of effective scripted humour, most of the moments of sheer hilarity are due entirely to the committed performances of Bateman, Sudeikis, Day, and Pine. Chris Pine, in particular, nearly steals the movie from his comedic co-stars, tackling the spoiled playboy Rex with the most gusto he’s summoned for a role since 2009’s Star Trek and obviously enjoys getting to stretch his comedic chops.
In any other year, Horrible Bosses 2 wouldn’t seem such a blotch on Bateman’s resume. Coming on the heels of the impressive drama This is Where I Leave You and the brilliant comedy Bad Words, though, it especially seems like a step backward. Horrible Bosses 2 has a number of funny scenes, but it remains one of the more run-of-the-mill comedies of the year and, horribly enough, one of Bateman’s weakest movies of the last decade.