by Lee Purvey
The outtake reel is significant. In its brief glimpse into the filmmaking process—the repeated takes, the normally absent set noise, actors’ personalities beginning to detach from their characters’—the outtake or blooper represents a willful breaking of the fourth wall, the unveiling of the cinematic apparatus by which the viewer is tricked into believing (at least on an unconscious level) in the reality of the film.
An outtakes reel plays over the ending credits of both Horrible Bosses 2 and its 2011 antecedent, Horrible Bosses. This isn’t exactly surprising, as such closing montages are most frequently associated with the broad, blockbuster comedy—a genre in which the emotional stakes of disrupting the narrative illusion are decidedly lower—and you don’t get much broader than the Horrible Bosses franchise. But here, the blooper show seems to highlight a subtler, more urgent intention than simply fishing for gag laughs. Maybe it was just me queasily projecting onto the unsettling images of honest-to-goodness dramatic actors (Christoph Waltz first among them) rendered in blooper, but the closing images seemed to reek of a desperate desire for legitimization, almost a willful admission on the part of the film’s creators that, yes, we thought this was funny, didn’t you?
Director: Sean Anders
Producers: Chris Bender, John Morris, Brett Ratner, John Rickard, Jay Stern
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris, Jonathan M. Goldstein (story), John Francis Daley (story)
Cinematographer: Julio Macat
Editor: Eric Kissack
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jonathan Banks, Lindsay Sloane, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Stables, Jerry Lambert
US Theatrical Release: November 26, 2014
US Distributor: Warner Bros,
With its metafictional closing, pithy joke repetition, and overwrought dialogic references to the first film, Horrible Bosses 2’s unfortunate plight is to be an utterly normal film fundamentally obsessed with its own singularity.
While the original hinted at the direction of a sequel, Horrible Bosses 2’s small army of writers (director Sean Anders and John Morris wrote the screenplay, while Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley join them for a story credit and Michael Markowitz is credited for writing the characters) take a liberal approach in bridging the two episodes. We’re reintroduced to the franchise’s trio of disgruntled professionals as they make an appearance on a local morning show to promote the Shower Buddy, an apparatus that automatically dispenses shampoo from a shower head, for which they are seeking investors. Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) have all quit their jobs to focus on their entrepreneurial venture—we’re cued into the passage of a few years by the appearance of three young children, belonging to Dale and wife Stacy (Lindsay Sloane), who were engaged in the first film.
Notably, the first portion of the film is saturated with Franklinian lingo of self-reliance and entrepreneurism, as the trio seem genuinely excited about their new lives as their “own bosses,” despite the difficulties posed by a recession economy and the increased corporatization of American business. They even profess their desire to have their product manufactured fairly in the U.S.
Following their TV appearance, the guys are surprised to find themselves contacted by a potential investor, the glibly charming Rex Hanson (Chris Pine), who, along with his father Burt Hanson (Waltz, who must have had a payment due on the house in Malibu or something), agrees to secure the aspiring businessmen a loan to manufacture their first order.
But when the Hansons’ promise of support proves to be a calculated swindle to steal their product, the gang find themselves needing a quick route to $500,000 to save their company and livelihoods. Having already failed in the last film as murderers, they opt for kidnapping, at which they prove equally inept until their would be victim takes the reins of the operation for his own benefit.
The prevailing mood here is cartoon, as the plot charges forward by the force of the same propellants as, say, a Bob’s Burgers or Archer episode—namely the protagonists’ own blundering cluelessness, which frequently borders on the totally absurd.
Day sets the tone, channeling the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia character that made him famous, and he’s far and away the most compelling lead. Bateman and (especially) Sudeikis quickly adjust their comedic delivery to Day’s aggressively oblivious shrieking deadpan.
Meanwhile editor Eric Kissack and cinematographer Julio Macat keep the levels at 11 in the visual department, imbuing this story of a couple of bumbling Average Joes with the flash of an Ocean’s film. While crisply compiled, the frequent deployment of montage and bewildering time-lapse depictions of downtown L.A. are as off the mark as the soundtrack.
It’s probably most helpful as a reviewer, at this point, to simply list some examples of the type of humor delivered in Horrible Bosses 2: Kurt mistakes “cogs in the machine” for “cocks in the machine,” Nick delivers an unknowingly homoerotic speech when he mistakes a sex addict meeting for an AA meeting, Dale’s repair efforts behind the frosted glass of a Shower Buddy unit containing Kurt look like a series of sexual acts. Come to think of it, most of Horrible Bosses 2’s jokes involve penises, so if that’s not your comedic kettle of tea, consider giving this one a pass.
In fact, if you expect comedy to somehow transcend the immediate gratification of a crude, obvious laugh, look elsewhere.
In his review in the New York Times, Stephen Holden called Horrible Bosses 2 “one of the sloppiest and most unnecessary Hollywood sequels ever made,” but—lazy hyperbole notwithstanding—I think he’s missing the point. Despite a few halfhearted attempts at making its story and characters relatable to the average moviegoer—perhaps disenchanted by Wall Street cheats and the corporate annihilation of American entrepreneurism, or maybe just peeved with his or her boss—Anders and company seem like they could care less about tying their comedy to anything bigger than itself. If you laughed, that’s enough for these guys.