Saturday, November 29, 2014

Too Many Crooks: HORRIBLE BOSSES 2

To say Horrible Bosses 2 represents everything wrong with America today is a bit of an overstatement, but more for what it implies about the mercifully forgettable movie’s importance than the actual repugnant experience of watching it unspool. Sure, it is a crassly commercial calculation pointlessly extending the plot of Horrible Bosses, a box office success that tidily concluded. There was no need to revisit the three dudes (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) who hated their bosses so much they ended up causing the death of one, jail time for another, and blackmailed the third into silence. But the mere fact that we are is only unfortunate. What’s worst is the resulting R-rated comedy sequel’s ceaselessly miscalculated edginess. It takes the underlying selfish smugness that permeated its predecessor and amps it up while dialing down the sense of effort. It’s lazy and dumb, offensive mostly for what it assumes an audience will settle for.

The plot’s a shambles, a dull repetition of similar moments stupidly drug along by flat scenes that sit on the screen without building momentum or energy. It’s flat, barely feeling like a movie at all most of the time. The main guys have invented a new product that looked to me like any old showerhead, but they call it the Shower Buddy and claim inspiration from a car wash, so what do I know? Their product catches the attention of a big shot mail order magnate (Christoph Waltz) who orders thousands of units, then refuses payment, sending their fledgling business into bankruptcy. Then he laughs, saying he’ll buy their company from the bank for pennies on the dollar.

Too stupid to learn their lesson from the last film, as per comedy sequel dictates, they decide to kidnap the rich guy’s jerk son (Chris Pine) and demand their company as ransom. Once they do, the son tries to negotiate a cut of the ransom as his dad calls a detective (Jonathan Banks) and our main characters flail about in-over-their-heads panicking. Now that I type that out, it doesn’t sound so bad. And indeed, the core is fine, a sort of Ransom of Red Chief meets heist movie plot that could’ve worked well with a tight pace, good sense of character, and funny jokes. There’s none of that here.

Director Sean Anders, coming off the funniest Adam Sandler comedy of the past decade, having apparently made a wrong turn somewhere, deploys ugly, garishly bright digital cinematography that looks cheap and smudged. It’s hard to look at, though at least it matches the general sense of slapdash carelessness that permeates the whole project. The plot features few real surprises. The closest it gets involves a character literally shouting, “What a twist!” It spends its time weakly moving through a painfully stupid series of events, limply trotting out characters from the first film (Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey) with little reason for their reappearances beyond their prior appearances. The screenplay (credited to the director and three others) heightens their original quirks to mean-spirited parodies of what were already those to begin with.

But where the script most turns wrong is its unrelenting vileness. No character can go more than three lines without becoming problematic or gratingly tone-deaf. It’s an attempt to be edgy, filthily R, through nothing more than endlessly, wearingly, willingly offensive dialogue of the cheapest, meanest, lowest variety. It starts to pile up instantly: ethnic slurs, casual objectification of women, fear and appropriation of black culture, gay panic. With the flimsiest patina of ironic distance, the sleaziest of half-hearted excuses for such bottom-feeding comedy, the movie becomes shamelessly putrid: sexist, racist, and homophobic, a gross pit of worst impulses, a comments section come to life, dripping self-regard and overflowing with horrible worldviews.

Most anything can be funny approached from the right angles, but Horrible Bosses 2 finds only wrong ones. There are tasteless punchlines about molestation, mental illness, and abuse, ill-timed gags about henpecked men and police misconduct. And every scene includes at least one attempted comic riff about sexual assault, resulting in a movie that seems to exist mostly to catalog all possible variations of rape joke. The only laughs are in the bloopers that play over the end credits, but even then they’re mostly on screen, not off. In a year that brought us largely funny, cheerily dirty, broad R-rated comedies like Neighbors and 22 Jump Street (problematic prison scene aside) managing to be somewhat progressive in their approaches to race, gender, sexuality, and class, the Horrible Bosses weltanschauung feels all the more stunted and backwards. Yuck.

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