Journey Into Mystification
So, I found myself once again in the position of having seen virtually everything on at the sweetshop and coffeeshop, and with the Phoenix shut for refurbishment again, the situation demanded I look into reaches of the schedule I am not usually wont to visit. This left me with the options of Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?, Paddington Bear: The Movie, and Horrible Bosses 2. I'll admit that the final decision was not entirely mine alone, but you don't want to read about a lot of wrangling over what to see. You want to read a review of Horrible Bosses 2. At least, I hope you do. If not, you may as well be on your way, for that is the business of the day.
Now, I must confess that I did consider going to see the original Horrible Bosses in 2011, but some sixth sense told me my time might be better spent elsewhere (which may explain the rash of golden-oldie Planet of the Apes reviews around the time the first film came out). However, I was assured that – if this one was anything like its predecessor – a knowledge of the plot would not be required for full appreciation of its nuances.
Anyway, as Sean Anders' film opens, we are introduced to Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Dale), three guys who are trying to make it as entrepreneurs and appearing on TV to promote their latest idea for a shower fitting. (It eventually transpires that Kurt is a softly-spoken moron, Charlie is a very noisy moron, and Nick, though not a moron, inevitably seems to find himself dragged along in the wake of the other two.) The opening sequence of the film does a pretty good job of establishing the tone of proceedings, in that its comic credentials are based on some infelicitious camera angles appearing to show Dale giving manual relief to and fellating Kurt, and the fact that their company name, when spoken too quickly, sounds like a racial slur.
While I was coming to the conclusion that this was not exactly going to be Bringing Up Baby, the plot progressed, with the trio going into business with the wealthy and ruthless Hanson family, personified by Burt (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine). It comes as no surprise when the Hansons make the the most of the fact the main characters are, well, morons, viciously exploiting them and leaving them horribly in debt, with only a short time to raise $500,000 or lose their company.
So what are a trio of morons going to do in such dire straits? Are they going to seek legal advice? No, of course not. Are they going to try and find a new business partner or backer to help them with their financial woes? No. Are they going to engage in a frankly stupid scheme to kidnap Rex Hanson and ransom him back to his father for the money they need? Well, obviously. There are a few scenes where Jennifer Aniston turns up as a sex-addicted dentist, but, you know, they're not exactly central.
Anyway, the other day I was reading an article where a bunch of professional writers chose the expressions they would like to see deleted from the lexicon – one chose 'Mary Sue', another went for 'info dump', and so on, on the grounds they had become debased or lost any essential meaning. (I couldn't help smelling a rat – I suspect some of them might have wanted to get rid of the expression 'this is a bad book', to stop that from appearing in reviews as well.) One of the choices was the term 'idiot plot', which is shorthand for any story which only works if all the main characters behave like unreasonable idiots.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, whatever you think of Mary Sue or info dump, I am absolutely certain that the expression idiot plot retains some critical value, and the proof of that is the existence of a film like Horrible Bosses 2. If any of the main characters acted remotely like an actual human being the story would never take place. But the story has to happen and so they blunder and bumble on in a wholly incredible way.
I have to say, however, that I'm not entirely averse to a bit of absurd slapstick, provided it's genuinely funny, and my problems with Horrible Bosses 2 don't really arise from the fact that the story is so silly. 'Silly' isn't entirely fair, to be honest: the plot itself is actually fairly inventive in some ways, and not quite as simplistic as you might expect. My main problem is that the tone of the thing is so – and how do I put this without coming over all Mary Whitehouse? – adolescent.
The kind of jokes featuring in the opening scene continue throughout the film, which also features wall-to-wall profanity, various glib jokes about rape, a little mild racial abuse, the objectification of women, and so on. None of this is really my thing, I will admit, and it may just be that I'm a failing old man who's lost his sense of humour. However, from various reviews I've read of other modern American comedy films, I get the impression that this has become de rigeur for the form: there seems to be the belief that audiences just aren't interested in going to see a funny film unless half the jokes are explicitly sexual and it has a three-figure F-bomb count.
Is this really the case? I'm not sure. Certainly, in the case of Horrible Bosses 2, I thought I could discern a fast, slick, and very silly comedy-thriller choking to death under the onslaught of 'adult' humour. I did eventually laugh at this film, despite attempting not to on principle: it was at a joke about someone using an indelible marker on a whiteboard, something I can empathise with myself (hey, that's my kind of humour). Also, Jason Bateman does give a genuinely funny deadpan performance as someone who knows that he should know better.
I did still find this a rather baffling experience, however, partly because – despite everything – I cannot find it in my heart to come out and say that Horrible Bosses 2 is an outright bad movie. The makers clearly had a specific objective in mind – a very crude, very silly comedy, with its profile raised by the presence of some big name actors – and this is indeed what they’ve ended up with. (Kevin Spacey amiably chews the scenery in his tiny cameo, but it rather seems to me that Jamie Foxx’s gangster is essentially a one-joke character.) I’m just not sure why they would choose to make this particular film, when there is plenty of evidence on display that they are capable of making something cleverer and much more accessible to a less juvenile audience.
In the end, however, I have to stick to talking about the film they made, not the ones they could have made. And the film that they made is more dismaying than anything approaching hilarious, not least because everyone involved is clearly obvious of so much better.