Chris Pine

Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis and Jason Bateman star in “Horrible Bosses 2.”

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema | Daily Texan Staff

It’s obvious that “Horrible Bosses 2” was only created because of the success of the previous film, “Horrible Bosses,” which was a crudely hilarious screwball comedy that featured great performances from both the talented leads and the supporting cast. In this mind-numbing sequel, however, there are only fragments of the charm exhibited by the original. Even strong acting performances can’t save a weak story. 

After escaping the tyranny of the bosses that drove them to near insanity, friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) decide to create their own business — peddling novelty shower accessories. Soon after meeting with wealthy businessman Bert (Christoph Waltz) and his tenacious son Rex (Chris Pine), the three friends discover that the two businessmen have scammed them out of their profits and essentially taken control of the company. Determined to keep themselves out of financial jeopardy, the three — along with ex-convict Dean Jones (Jamie Foxx) — hatch a plan to kidnap Rex and collect a ransom. Naturally, through a series of bizarre comedic mishaps, the plan goes awry.

“Horrible Bosses 2” desperately leans on its predecessor for support. Considering that two out of the three “horrible bosses” return in extended cameos, it becomes clear that the sequel borrows too many elements from the first film without adding any innovative ideas. Plus, plotting a kidnapping seems tame for the same group of men who were willing to commit murder in the first film.

The only elements added by director Sean Anders — like the shower business subplot and the new characters — feel flat and uninspired. Part of the charm of the first “Horrible Bosses” was how cruel and cartoon-like the antagonists were, but the new villains are just boring stereotypes of arrogant executives. 

The return of the crude humor seems unsavory a second time around. There are moments that induce instantaneous chuckles and a few belly laughs, but much of the improvised dialogue fails to translate. The sex jokes are constant, and even those who aren’t at all prudish will find the jokes uncomfortable and repetitive.

The acting is the only highlight, as it’s clear the chemistry between Bateman, Day and Sudeikis is impeccable. The characters they portray are a major issue, however, especially Day’s and Sudeikis’. While the duo played delightful, goofy screw-ups in the previous film, the follow-up regresses them to full-fledged morons. Waltz’s talent is tragically wasted as the older executive, but Pine has a few funny moments as the sociopathic son. While Jennifer Aniston’s return as the sex addicted dentist feels forced, Kevin Spacey’s reprisal as the ruthless Dave Harken is memorable. 

A clever concept motivated the original “Horrible Bosses,” but box office hits motivated this sequel. Lost in a weak story and tired humor, “Horrible Bosses 2” becomes another sequel that is ultimately meaningless and dull.

 Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) struggles with a rival in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit."

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 

Action films are a lot like pizza: cheesy, nutrition-free, covered in red sauce and delicious nonetheless. The greats, such as “Die Hard” and “Terminator 2,” are gourmet pies, made with the best ingredients possible and cooked to perfection. Then there are the Papa John’s and Pizza Huts of action cinema, entertaining but disposable works such as last year’s underappreciated “White House Down.” But the truly forgettable pizza and action flicks have the most in common — stale, greasy slices of lukewarm mediocrity. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” unfortunately, falls into that undesirable category, and its tepid story and nonsensical action sequences render it the rough equivalent of a burned slice of Little Caesar’s.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” casts Chris Pine as the famed Tom-Clancy character, telling the story of Ryan’s origin via a tragic helicopter accident that puts him in league with gorgeous physical therapist Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and CIA recruiter Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Ten years later, Ryan is an undercover analyst working for banks to uncover terrorist funding when he stumbles upon a plot by Russian banker Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) to tank the U.S. economy.

The biggest shortcoming of “Jack Ryan” is Adam Cozad’s and David Koepp’s script, which was retrofitted from an original screenplay by Cozad and robbed of any personality in the process. Several individual moments in “Jack Ryan” work, such as Muller’s suspicions about her boyfriend’s job or the brawl between Ryan and a thwarted assassin sent by Cherevin, but only when removed from the context of the film as a whole. Just after Ryan dispatches the aforementioned assassin, his next move is to visit Cherevin, putting on a happy face like they’ve both forgotten the banker tried to have him killed a few scenes ago. The movie is clumsily tied together by a barrage of convenient expository bursts late in the film, but the plot doesn’t even have a handle on its own time line. An early scene informs us that Ryan has been on the job for a full decade — despite not aging a day — yet Muller and Ryan repeatedly state they’ve known each other for only three years.

If the cast were a bit stronger, these logical inconsistencies would be easier to overlook. The reliably charismatic Pine is dead in the water here — the charming, funny personality he brought to his role in “Star Trek” replaced with dutiful, unambiguous heroism. Knightly seems to have been cast solely so Branagh could get as many unflattering reaction shots as possible, but, even when she’s allowed to act, the only thing more unconvincing than her performance is her ludicrous character arc. Meanwhile, Branagh generically glowers as the film’s villain, and Costner ably plays Ryan’s loyal mentor.

But even the lousiest action films should shine when it’s time for their hero to brawl. For one sequence in which Ryan breaks into Cherevin’s office while Muller improbably distracts the villain with whispered flirtations, “Jack Ryan” comes alive, and there’s a glimpse of a taut, exciting espionage thriller. The rest of the film’s action scenes range from adequate to incompetent, especially in the finale, which cuts between several action beats with a stunning disregard for geography, coherence and logic before ending on a moment that makes no sense on its own and even less when tied to the rest of the sequence.

Chris Pines and Tom Hardy star in McG-directed “This Means War,” a romantic action film in which the two fight for the affections for a character played by Reese Witherspoon (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox).

There’s lots of potential for “This Means War” to be a great time at the theaters. Director McG knows his way around a fluffy, paper-thin storyline, having cut his teeth on the short-lived “Charlie’s Angels” franchise, and Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are both interesting, likeable rising stars. Add in the film’s intriguing spy vs. spy premise and “This Means War” could have been the rare enjoyable Valentine’s Day movie, one that guys can take their dates to and come out with all brain cells intact. Unfortunately, all of those ingredients come out to make a half-baked, badly written film that’s about as memorable as the soda you’ll drink while watching it.

We’re introduced to agents Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) in a slick opening sequence in which the two charm women, wear suits and fight bad guys. All appears to be well with their rock-solid friendship. Then they both fall for Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) and, after deciding to let her choose between them and setting a few ground rules for their competition, immediately begin undermining each other in their quest for romantic supremacy.

For most of its runtime, “This Means War” is an easygoing, entertaining distraction. Its central friendship doesn’t feel forced; Pine and Hardy have a lived-in, quick-witted rapport that proves a solid foundation to build a film on.

Unfortunately, as things become increasingly sour between the two, the film begins to rely on their chemistry with Witherspoon. While she plays well with others and none of her scenes are painful, Witherspoon’s character is too inconsistent to invest in, fluctuating between a romantically conflicted sympathetic figure and an emotionally manipulative witch a bit too frequently.

McG also performs fairly admirably. He keeps the film moving at a fast clip and stages plenty of stylish action scenes. He also packs the soundtrack with classic rock and even slips in a fun “Goodfellas” homage. Even if McG occasionally stumbles with a spastic, conspicuous editing style, his earnestness and enthusiasm for the project shine through.

Many of the problems in “This Means War” can be traced back to its screenplay, which, with a few more drafts and some plot twists, could have built on its intriguing premise to make a much better film. Unfortunately, writers Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg created a film in which almost every plot beat for the rest of the film is predictable from the first 20 minutes. Is it possible that the baddie (Til Schweiger), Tuck and FDR fight in the opening sequence and will return for revenge? Once Tuck and FDR make rules concerning their relationship with Lauren, is there any chance they’ll break them all immediately?

Even though it’s clear where the film is going, the ending has a much more significant problem. As the romantic conflict reaches a climax, “This Means War” becomes shockingly mean-spirited and cruel to its characters and then casts all the potential conflict stemming from the terrible things they’re doing to each other aside, having them reconcile all too easily. It’s disrespectful to the characters, to the film’s commitment to its premise and to the audience. And it leaves the film on a nasty, bitter note.

“This Means War” is by no means a terrible film and a pretty ideal release for Valentine’s Day. It’ll make boatloads of money from the romantically inclined but will quickly fade from all of their collective memories before winding up a forgotten film in the $5 DVD bin at Wal-Mart. While that’s the destiny for many lackluster films, it’s a shame that this one has to join the ranks because with that cast, that concept and that director, it really could have been something special.

Printed on, Tuesday February 14, 2012 as: Spy film falls short of potential