CAMEOS from some gifted actors deliver the laughs largely missing from a creaking, plot-heavy sequel, says Alistair Harkness.
Horrible Bosses (15)
Director: Sean Anders
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Christoph Waltz
Revolving around three disgruntled friends who plot to kill each other’s tyrannical employers, the macabre premise of 2011’s Horrible Bosses wrote a black comedy cheque that its mainstream execution couldn’t quite cash. That didn’t stop it becoming a huge hit, but the film bottled out of doing anything particularly transgressive, partly because in casting Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as best friends whose respective employer woes led them to hatch their Strangers on a Train-style murder plan, the film couldn’t bear to make them unlikeable. Instead of, say, importing some of the relentlessly misanthropic humour of Day’s own long-running sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the film tried way too hard to shock by casting Colin Farrell as a comb-over-sporting moron and Jennifer Aniston as a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac. The result was a film desperate to satisfy market demands for another comedy in the mould of The Hangover, which it what it became.
It perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, that a similar failure of nerve afflicts this sequel. Beginning with returning friends Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) going into business for themselves (with an ill-thought-through amalgam of their names as their company moniker), the film flirts for the briefest of moments with making them the horrible bosses of the title before quickly giving them a nastier nemesis to rail against in the form of Christoph Waltz, deliciously hammy as ever, as a billionaire businessman who reneges on an order for a new line of shower products the guys have come up with as part of a nefarious plan to run their under-funded start-up into the ground and purchase the company wholesale from their creditors at a rock-bottom price.
Miffed that their dreams of escaping the drudgery of being “cogs in the machine” for the rest of their lives have been torpedoed by the unscrupulous nature of their sole client, Nick, Kurt and Dale’s collective thoughts turn reluctantly but inevitably to crime as they realise they have no legal recourse for getting their money back.
That last detail is made clear to them by Kevin Spacey, Bateman’s prison-bound boss from the first film, who is on hand in cameo format to raise a few smiles that aren’t exactly forthcoming from the relentless and tiresome yammering that impending bankruptcy has inspired in the guys. Fully aware that they don’t have the stomach for violent crime, they naively cook up a plot to extort the money they owe from Waltz’s character by kidnapping his grown-up son (played by Chris Pine). Once again it falls on another actor on cameo duty, Jamie Foxx, to further bolster the laugh quotient by reprising his role from the first film as the tough-talking, criminal advice giving barfly, Motherf***** Jones. Exploiting our supposed heroes’ racial prejudices, Foxx makes these scenes work, even though the gag essentially depends on the bogus shock value of three white guys indulging in irony-drenched racial humour.
That kind of comedy tactic is taken to an even more egregious extreme as the film contrives to find a way to make Aniston’s predatory, sex-addicted dentist figure once again in the action. Aniston is a gifted comedian, but ribald antics aren’t her strong suit, especially now that they they’re not even tethered to this film’s basic plot. Granted, she commits to the role, but the material she has to work with is pretty weak and the gag falls flat, not because of her, but because her character’s behaviour isn’t rooted in a believable comic situation: it’s rooted in director Sean Anders’ desire to have Aniston talking dirty in his movie.
Almost in spite of itself, the film does serve up some laugh-out-loud moments though. Most come courtesy of Day, who admittedly has the capacity to grate and be great in equal measure, but also demonstrates a bit more range here than either Bateman (stuck once again being the straight-man of the three, save for one scene with Aniston that’s never properly followed up) and Sudeikis (whose one-note, unreconstructed chauvinist shtick just comes across as creepy). Weirdly, Chris Pine comes off rather well as Waltz’s embittered son Rex, perhaps because playing someone who’s smarmy is a better fit for his talents than the straight-up action hero roles his bland good looks have thus far secured him in the wake of Star Trek. Cast as a playboy living off his father’s money but craving a fortune of his own, his character encourages the trio to follow through on their kidnapping plan even after they botch their first attempt to take him – something that eventually kicks the shambolic, plot-heavy action into gear. Unfortunately, it only kicks it into second gear, where this film seems all too content to remain.
Director: Paul King
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ben Wishaw (voice), Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Peter Capaldi
Advance reports that Michael Bond’s beloved Paddington Bear stories had been laced with inappropriately racy humour on their way to the big screen prove laughably false here. Save for some pantomime dame-style humour and the odd chaotic set-piece, Paddington is a gentle film, thriving on quietly imaginative flights of fancy that capture the spirit of the 1970s TV series without turning it into a nostalgia fest for parents who grew up on the marmalade-munching ursine immigrant.
Newly arrived in London after an earthquake disrupts his home life in deepest, darkest Peru, this Paddington (nicely rendered in CGI and charmingly voiced by Ben Wishaw) finds himself adopted by the mildly dysfunctional Brown family, whose paterfamilias (Hugh Bonneville) reluctantly agrees – more on the urging of his wife (Sally Hawkins) than his children – to take him in until a more suitable home can be found.
Searching for a sense of belonging is the general theme underlying the scrapes Paddington subsequently gets into as he tries to acclimatise to life with the Browns, while Nicole Kidman’s vampish taxidermist (aided by Peter Capaldi as the Browns’ nosy neighbour) attempts to get her hands on him for reasons of her own. The latter plot development (cribbed from 101 Dalmatians) amplifies the action and dramatic incidence of the source material, but also makes it feel episodic and overcooked. What saves it is the way writer/director Paul King, who cut his teeth directing The Mighty Boosh TV show, adds a wilful element of wonkiness to proceedings, infusing live-action scenes with moments of animated wonder that offset the slickness.
He also turns the movie into a sweet-natured celebration of tolerance. The London of Paddington is a cultural melting pot and the vibrancy of the Browns’ Notting Hill neighbourhood is enlivened by throwaway scenes of Paddington crossing paths with a local Cuban band performing in the street (Damon Albarn had a hand in putting the music together). There are nice references, too, to the history of refugees and wartime evacuees that relate to the inspiration Bond drew on when he came up with the character in 1958.
This being an origins story, Paddington also provides detailed explanations for his hat and his love for the marmalade sandwiches he keeps under it – and we see the moment he acquires his duffel coat too. All in all, it’s a nice reintroduction for the character and a worthier seasonal cinematic treat for the younger end of the family market than those horrendous Nativity films.