Horrible Bosses 2 (R) ****
Watching this movie gave me the same feelings I used to have watching Steve Carell and the cast of “The Office.” Everyone was so stupid, and that irritated me despite the fact that I was laughing myself silly. Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day), the “heroes” of the first edition of the franchise, are trying to find a foolproof way of getting started back on the path to wealth. They settle on an automatic shower system that they plan to manufacture and market.
Alas, they run into Christopher Waltz (Bert Hanson), tycoon and cheat, and his son, Rex (Chris Pine), also a cheat. The cheats, as usual, prosper and the boys are left on the outside looking at another total failure.
Then the real madness begins as they try to get their money and their pride back. The witless schemes start to multiply so they turn to Dave (Kevin Spacey), who is in jail for previous scams but finds time and energy enough to insult the trio while offering to “help” them. Sure.
Lacking sensible advice from Dave, they turn at last for detailed help on a planned snatch of Rex Hanson to Dean “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx). The ransom is supposed to solve all of heir problems. By now, however, even the dullest audience member has to realize that NOTHING these hapless amateurs are going to come up with is going to go the way they want it to go. The only cast member dumber than Nick, Kurt and Dale is Foxx. His stupidity is covered by his arrogance. There are more than enough idiotic suggestions from the Trio, including an idea of using golf gloves to cover fingerprints during the snatch. Nobody seems to realize that golfers wear only one glove, so fingerprints are prevented by a golf glove and the mittens usually covering the golfer’s woods.
Jennifer Aniston reprises her role of dentist Julia Harris in this first sequel of her career. The scene at her Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting is hysterical, and her libidinous insatiability takes a bizarre twist near the end of the film. In the meantime, Dale rationalizes having sex with dentist Julia: “It’s not really adultery if you’re doing it to save your family.”
Some of the action scenes are dumb and insipid, but there are flashes of inspired madness. Much of the dialogue appears to have been improvised, leading to an occasional mishmash of lines, making them hard to follow. What you do pick up will be enough to make you shake your head and groan a lot. Like the first episode in the series, this film is definitely not for the younger set. It is extremely gross in language and pathetic in its plot twists and turns. Best for a rainy day with other teenagers.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (PG-13) ***
Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss Everdeen. That may be enough for most followers of the Hunger Games series, which has one more episode to go next year. But this series has evolved into a puzzle: Is it an adventure series or is it a romance? This episode tilts the balance to the romance side of things, but there is certain to be more adventure in the finale. At least this critic hopes there will be.
Once focused on the romance between Everdeen and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the film bogs down into often soapy, tear-filled pangs of lost romance and becomes merely another rescue picture with not much adventure and only short bursts of action. It is also intensely dreary in tone: wrecked buildings, burned skeletons, evil President Snow, heroic poses by the President of District 13, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and patriotic speeches by Peeta and others.
Peeta is the hostage of the Capitol and the devious President Snow, and the whole film is based on attempts to get him back. This in itself is a somewhat unlikely scenario as the Capitol has many defensive resources, but the rebels are devious themselves and, thanks to Jeffrey Wright’s computer genius Beetee, the odds even up for Peeta’s rescue. He has been in custody for some time so it is apparent to even the densest audience member that having him back in the fold may engender some risk, and it does.
Meanwhile, the guy who deserves Katniss, the rock-steady Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is left pouting on the outside, allowed only to steal a couple of much-needed kisses from our heroine. She is, after all, “the lightning rod … the face of the Revolution.” She is told that, “Everybody is going to want to kiss you, kill you or be you.” Some life! In a Bond-ish scene, she is able to put some multi-colored explosive arrows in her quiver, one of which is capable of taking down two jet fighters with one shot. Yes, the famous Destructive Double. Another can take out a building, a third does something else dire and we are made to sweat out a scene in which she draws a bead on a well-racked deer. Will Katniss really spend an explosive arrow on a mere helpless deer?
Lawrence even gets to sing. The ballad is the folk-ish “The Hanging Tree,” and it soon moves to Number One in the District 13 charts and becomes the rebels’ anthem. A clever touch is the inclusion this time of a film crew, played by Natalie Dormer with her bizarre tattoos and haircut. They allow more sidebar storytelling while serving as a conduit for the rebels’ information.
I was left with a Big Question at the end of this strangely quiet episode: Have the teens and pre-teens who make up the primary audience for this series been following it for the action or for the romance? I suspect the former, but this is sure to be a smash hit, as dull as most of it is. At two hours, it is somewhat shorter than previous films in the Hunger Games series. We await 2015 and the conclusion to see whether they lengthen it to tell the whole story. Nothing damaging for the younger set, but they might get bored even before their older siblings realize there’s not much going on.