Is there any genre we have a greater love-hate relationship with than the comedy sequel? Sequels to our favorite comedies are often the most anticipated releases of the year. Even just hearing that one is in the works can create as much internet traffic as an oiled-up Kardashian. And yet all too often, the experience of sitting through a comedy sequel leaves us feeling angry and let down. Not unlike after seeing the photos of an oiled-up Kardashian.
So as I sat in the darkened theatre waiting for Horrible Bosses 2 to begin, I hoped for the best but braced myself for the worst. I enjoyed the 2011 original which benefited from exceptional screen chemistry amongst the three leads (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) as well as fearless supporting performances from the titular horrible bosses. (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Collin Farrell) For the sequel to live up to the original, it would have to buck a long standing cinematic trend.
I have created four categories that all comedies sequels fall under and the percentage for each. They are:
AS GOOD IF NOT BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL (7%)
A Shot in the Dark (Pink Panther sequel), Austin Powers the Spy Who Shagged Me, 22 Jump Street
NOT AS GOOD AS THE ORIGINAL BUT PASSABLE (63%)
Beverly Hills Cop II, Wayne’s World II, Anchorman II, Clerks II, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
REMARKABLY BAD (22%)
Ghostbusters II, Back to the Future II, Weekend at Bernie’s II, Look Who’s Talking Too, Short Circuit II
A GLOBAL AUTROCITY REQUIRING A UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTION (8%)
Caddieshack II, Blues Brothers 2000, Teen Wolf Too
Just going by the (completely made up and arbitrary) numbers, comedy sequels have a 70% chance of not being truly awful but only a 7% chance of actually being good. It would seem that comedy sequels are why they invented the phrase – Meh, it was okay.
In Horrible Bosses II, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) decide to go into business for themselves after Dale comes up with the idea for The Shower Buddy, a shower nozzle that automatically dispenses shampoo and conditioner. The guys get approached by billionaire Burt Hanson (Christolph Waltz) who wants to be the exclusive distributor for the product and orders 100,000 units. This turns out to be a power play to bankrupt the guys and take over their company. To prevent this from happening, our guys need to come up with a way to make a lot of money in a very short time to pay off their bank loan. They land on a kidnapping plot where they abduct Hanson‘s douchebag adult son Rex (Chris Pine) and hold him for ransom.
This plot device gets the movie where it needs to be – our bumbling leads stumbling their way through a high level criminal plot well beyond their competency. And the role Rex plays in the kidnapping turns out to be a fun aspect as well. However this plotline also exposes the movie‘s greatest weakness. The first movie worked so well because the guys were constantly pitted against and reacting to their horrible bosses. Remove that constant force of antagonism and you’re left with a low rent three stooges dynamic. There are too many scenes of the guys bickering and fighting amongst themselves and not enough really big laughs.
The scenes that were the most enjoyable and really popped off the screen were the brief cameo appearances by the former bosses played by Aniston and Spacey. The bumbling nature of our protagonists only really works when contrasted against the strength and awfulness of the antagonists. I would have liked to see more of Aniston, Spacey and Jamie Foxx who returned as Mr. (shall we say) Jones. Without more of these amazing supporting characters, what plays out for most of the second half is yet another inept kidnapping movie. It’s not terrible but it’s not special either.
To make this movie a real success they needed to follow the path of Austin Powers and 22 Jump Street and make the laughs huge and keep them coming through the entirety of the film. A sequel cannot give us the joy of meeting the characters for the first time as in the original so it needs to hang big laughs on a solid plotline. Fail to do so and what do get?
Meh, it was okay.