Would it surprise you to learn that Horrible Bosses is the highest-grossing black comedy ever? It surprised me, mainly because I didn't think they kept statistics for that kind of thing. Don't get me wrong, I love black comedy as much as any good, cynical movie critic. But they don't usually make a lot of money — as the old saying goes, "Satire closes on Saturday night." And yet, Horrible Bosses raked in north of $200 million on a $35 million budget. So they made another one.
The would-be murderous trio from the first one, uptight accountant Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), dental assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), and clueless finance drone Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), have started a business to market their invention, the Shower Buddy. After they bicker, bumble, and pantomime hand jobs on a TV morning show, they improbably get a call from someone at a boutique mail-order business, Boulder Stream, who thinks the Shower Buddy is a "home run." After turning down a buyout offer from Boulder Stream executive Rex Hanson (Chris Pine, the guy who plays Captain Kirk but isn't William Shatner), they strike what they believe is a favorable deal with his father, CEO Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). But once they fulfill their part of the contract, Bert double crosses them, and they have only a few days to save their company from his clutches. Naturally, they decide to kidnap Rex for $500,000 and use the ransom money to pay off their loan to the bank. Maybe, they "reason," they'll be better at kidnapping than they were at murder.
They aren't, so they meet again with "MF" Jones (Jamie Foxx), who gives the gang some vague plans about sedating the victim, which leads them to break into the office of Dale's old boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). The film reaches its comedic high point when Nick must bluff his way through a sex-addiction recovery group to save his co-conspirators from discovery. Armed with a canister of anesthetic, they attempt to kidnap Rex, who immediately gets the better of them and takes over the plan. They'll fake his kidnapping and split $5 million, because Rex is the kind of guy who thinks big.
The central comedy trio works well enough: Bateman is the straight man, the Groucho figure, while Day and Sudeikis goof it up. Pine is deliciously douchebaggy as the devoid of all human empathy scion of wealth, and Waltz plays to type as his calmly evil father. Aniston is apparently incapable of partial commitment to a role, and there's a beautiful cameo from Kevin Spacey, who looks like he just showed up for one day and nailed his profanity-filled monologue.
But for this kind of comedy to work, the actors need a pretty tight plot to mug against for laughs.The Hangover was a good example. Unfortunately, Horrible Bosses 2 takes after Hangover 2 instead, cynically pilfering plot points from better movies like Raising Arizona when it's not just replaying beats from the original. While the original got subversive laughs from the class tensions, making the central trio businessmen like their targets instead of employees defangs the premise and makes them into just another set of amoral, plotting sharks in an economy filled to the brim with them. As Foxx's character says in a failed joke that reads like a screenwriter's uncomfortable moment of clarity, these characters are just a bunch of criminals who still think they're nice guys. But with this much star power on display, they should at least be funny criminals.