Movies

‘Horrible Bosses 2’ works better

Top (from left): Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jennifer Aniston in a scene from “Horrible Bosses 2.” Above: Christoph Waltz (left) and Chris Pine.
John P. Johnson
Top (from left): Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jennifer Aniston in a scene from “Horrible Bosses 2.”

Was “Horrible Bosses” actually sequel-worthy? Sure, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day had some loose, likably foolish chemistry as wage slaves plotting to off their workplace tormentors. But the filmmakers seemed to have a little trouble differentiating between raunchy and off-putting. Jennifer Aniston was funny as a filth-spouting nympho dentist sexually harassing Day’s hapless character — but jokes about, say, down-and-out Wall Streeters reduced to “Midnight Cowboy” hustling? Oof. And the more palatable humor was mostly disposable. You’d think that the leads would each just move on to their next sitcom-ish feature of the week.

Instead, they’re all back for “Horrible Bosses 2,” a new misadventure whose negligibly refined formula somehow ends up being more consistently entertaining. Well, “refined” is probably the wrong word — there’s still plenty of gleefully bad taste in this contrivance about reluctant Nick (Bateman), oversexed Kurt (Sudeikis), and fretful Dale (Day) bumbling through a kidnapping scheme. Just as there was a nod to “Strangers on a Train” and its murder-swap plot last time, there’s a shout-out to “9 to 5” here — less of a stretch, as far as creative sophistication goes.

Not that the guys haven’t learned a couple of lessons from last time. Determined to be their own bosses for a change, they’ve invented a SkyMall-ready shower aid that manages to draw interest despite their comically disastrous demonstration on a TV morning show. (Picture something in the spirit of those “Austin Powers” peekaboo gags — only lewder, of course.) Enter Christoph Waltz as a smarmy retail mogul who professes to want to help them succeed, but who cunningly maneuvers them into bankruptcy so that he can snatch away their product. What’s a team of swindled business dreamers to do but try to ransom their investor’s strutting, spoiled son (Chris Pine, doing a game, hyper-caffeinated variation on his Captain Kirk swagger)?

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Director Sean Anders (“That’s My Boy”) and his writing partners feel an inordinate need to echo the first movie beat for why-bother beat, from compromised toothbrush pranks to Sudeikis’s penchant for pervy idioms-that-aren’t-really. (We’ll give a pass to the soundtrack reprise of “How You Like Me Now?” — love The Heavy.) But they do come up with some amusing new bits for Aniston’s DDS, who’s not exactly into her sex-addiction support group, go figure. Incarcerated employer Kevin Spacey also drops by for a couple of scenes. And Jamie Foxx’s profanely monikered con artist [Expletive Deleted] Jones is back in a big way, adding sly, goofy spark to the requisite chase sequence and outtakes, and even working some entrepreneurial dreams of his own. Give that man a sequel? Could happen.

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Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.