The third-greatest scourge of the earth, right after online comments sections and bedbugs, is the unfunny comedy sequel, which may be why you think you should skip Horrible Bosses 2. The miraculous surprise is that Horrible Bosses 2 isn’t terrible at all. It’s looser, breezier, more confident than its 2011 predecessor, which tried to squeeze in as many raunchy jokes as possible, loading most of them onto the slender shoulders of Jennifer Aniston as a horny dentist hellbent on seducing her assistant, Charlie Day’s happily monogamous Dale. The movie’s big poke in the ribs was that Aniston, America’s sweetheart, was actually saying words like “cock” and “boner,” a concept that was probably funnier when it was still just a concept.
Aniston reappears in Horrible Bosses 2, having expanded her repertoire of things you shouldn’t say in polite or even impolite company, but somehow she’s funnier this time, not just in on the joke but integral to it. Horrible Bosses 2 — which was directed and co-written by Sean Anders, whose previous writing credits include Hot Tub Time Machine and the recent bummer Dumb and Dumber To — riffs on the “What could possibly go wrong?” rhetoric that’s as old as comedy itself. Everything that could does.
Having freed themselves from the employers who’d squelched their joie de vivre in the first movie, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) have decided to launch their own business. Their product is a wholly useless gizmo called the Shower Buddy, but their hearts are in exactly the right place: They want their shower thingies to be made in America, and they want to treat their employees well, offering the kinds of benefits that used to be standard but have now become endangered species — not just health insurance but also that more nebulous line item known as respect. Wowed by their idea, high-powered biz guy Bert Hanson (an endearingly sinister Christoph Waltz) makes a deal with them. They’re so naive they don’t realize at first that he’s actually cheated them out of their company. Eventually, to retaliate, they hatch a plan to kidnap his grown son, hail-fellow-well-met asshole Rex (Chris Pine, who makes an excellent eyelash-fluttering boy-man sociopath).
Not every joke hits its mark; maybe only even half of them hit. But the picture skips along briskly, thanks in part to its nimble editing. (The kidnapping plan is presented in a slick Steven Soderbergh–style fantasy montage, later contrasted with the truly sorry-ass reality; the juxtaposition makes a satisfying click.) Aniston, returning as that horny dentist, seems more at ease with her potty-mouth dialogue — it probably helps that Anders uses her character as a curlicue, refusing to point to her with neon arrows advertising how hilarious she’s supposed to be.
Maybe Horrible Bosses 2 works because it’s filled with curlicues rather than all-out gags. The three leads are less funny for their big comedy moments than for just how they are: Their petty aggravations, their up-front eye rolling, their ludicrous malapropisms — not to mention their furtive communications via pink toy walkie-talkies — add up to a kind of mad, Three Stooges–style bonhomie. They can’t get along with one another, but you can’t imagine them apart.
Anders steers his way through a few rough patches of perhaps mildly homophobic humor, of the “We’re all just dudes together, but we’re not gay, really” variety, but they’re not enough to sink the movie. The funniest bits are the ones that seem tossed off, as when Sudeikis’s Kurt rattles off a line of fake code-speak — “The chickens have left the pot, my God, my God!” — into his tiny princess walkie-talkie. And Jamie Foxx reappears as the intentionally exaggerated and unapologetic stereotype Motherfucker Jones, his shaved head adorned with snaky, badass tattoos. This time, we learn that he dreams of opening his own Pinkberry.
The world of management and its asshat language is such fertile territory for comedy; it’s amazing how few comedies get it right, or even bother to try, but Anders and his actors pretty much hit it out of the park. At one point the devious Rex, after leading a faux-corporate brainstorming session, figuratively pats the head of darling, dim-witted Dale: “You had a lot of bad ideas that led to good ideas, and that is valued!” But aside from just being ridiculous and enjoyable, Horrible Bosses 2 has a lot to say about what have traditionally been called, in the business world and elsewhere, leadership values. Actually, the movie seems to be saying that in business, at least, those values no longer exist — the creeps at the top are too obsessed with making money to give a crap about their employees, even as they hide their true motivation with goopy coats of “We’re all family here” varnish.
Still, Horrible Bosses 2 is heartening, almost inspirational, in the end. Generous impulses triumph over greed; Nick, Kurt, and Dale are able to build the company they envisioned, running it fairly and profitably, and, most importantly, earning the loyalty and respect of their racially diverse employees. This is what the entrepreneurial spirit in America should mean. The chickens have left the pot, my God, my God. Crazily, they struck out on their own and, after initially making a mess of things, managed to make the world a slightly better place.