Some ideas just aren’t cut out for sequels. ‘The Hangover’ was ingenious and hilarious—for one movie. But another ‘Hangover’? With the same guys? That doesn’t make a ton of sense. ‘The Blue Lagoon’ was striking and exotic. But a ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’? More castaways? On the exact same deserted island? Sorry, no thanks. To the list of concepts that could not support a sequel but got one anyway, we can now add ‘Horrible Bosses 2,’ a flimsy retread of the 2011 comedy that had barely enough material to fill one film.

The first time around, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) were so frustrated with their terrible bosses that they decided to enter into a ‘Strangers on a Train’-style pact to bump them all off. Since having these guys try to murder more people would turn them into borderline serial killers (who, traditionally, are not super hilarious), they now lower their ambitions to kidnapping. After a sleazy businessman (Christoph Waltz) and his jerky son Rex (Chris Pine) run Nick, Kurt, and Dale’s new shower-caddy company into the ground, the trio of bumbling buddies decide to get even by holding Rex for ransom. But because Nick, Kurt, and Dale are such terrible criminals, they screw up every single step of their plan, from gassing Rex in his home (they end up knocking themselves out instead) to demanding the money (they “disguise their voices” with bad Southern and/or old prospector accents).

In the original ‘Horrible Bosses,’ a lot of the comedy came from the bosses themselves—Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and particularly Jennifer Aniston—each relishing their opportunity to play some of the sleaziest, meanest (and, in Aniston’s case, profanely sexual) characters of their careers. Spacey and Aniston are both back this time around, though in marginalized roles; Spacey’s is perhaps the most literally phoned-in performance in Hollywood history, delivered entirely from behind a pane of glass in a prison visitation room (in the closing-credit outtakes, you can actually see him going over his lines from a script just out of frame). It’s still amusing to see Aniston skewer her wholesome image by playing someone so outrageously vulgar, but her character has absolutely nothing to do with the Waltz/Pine story, and gets shoehorned in solely to add another raunchy comic set-piece (which, in all fairness, is easily the highlight of the film).

The new “bosses” aren’t nearly as entertaining as their predecessors, although Pine is almost unsettlingly convincing as a compulsive liar and borderline sociopath. Waltz doesn’t mesh particularly well with Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day—but at least they still have Jamie Foxx’s Motherf---ker Jones on hand to bounce around ideas for illegal activities (or possible investment opportunities). When Foxx or Aniston fade into the background, though, ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ devolves into extended (and sometimes painfully desperate) riffing from the three main stars.

‘Horrible Bosses’ wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was mostly funny. ‘Horrible Bosses 2’ mostly isn't, and it enters a marketplace that’s increasingly crowded with winking, self-referential crime and action comedies like ‘Let’s Be Cops’ and the ’21 Jump Street’ series. If this idea ever felt fresh, it sure doesn’t anymore. The leads’ shtick has its moments, but with less support, their antics become very one-note—and now that one-note has been stretched across two movies. I hope for all parties involved that these men find nothing but wonderful employers in their future.[googleAd adunit="cutout-placeholder" placeholder="cutout-placeholder"]

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