COLOSSAL (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

Written by: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson & Dan Stevens

I’ve been holding off on reviewing COLOSSAL for a while now. The main reason for that is because this film is so strange that it’s hard to accurately sum up what makes it so enjoyable and refreshing for me. I know there are people who completely hate this film and I understand why they might feel that way. However, I dug the hell out of COLOSSAL for being the best bizarre little dramedy combined with a kaiju film that I’ve ever seen. This movie has monsters, laughs, and feels. What more could you possibly ask for from one-of-a-kind Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo (who’s also known for TIMECRIMES, so-so thriller OPEN WINDOWS, and the only good segment in V/H/S: VIRAL).

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has sunk to an all-time low in her life. She’s struggling with alcoholism, her lack of a job, a recent break-up with her frustrated boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), and, to cap it all off, she’s moved back to her depressing hometown. Things aren’t all bad though, because she’s reconnected with her long-lost childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and he owns a bar. There’s also been a recent appearance of a giant monster terrorizing South Korea, but that couldn’t have anything to do with Gloria’s return to her hometown, right? Well, actually, Gloria is somehow connected to this monster and the resulting antics spiral out of control as she discovers that millions of lives rest in her hands.

First and foremost, COLOSSAL works as a comedy-drama about a gal who’s trying to maintain control of her life and battle her personal demons. That might not be the sentence you expect to hear when describing a giant monster movie, but it’s definitely the descriptor that fits COLOSSAL. This film really functions on Gloria, her tepid relationships with men, and her struggle to overcome her problems. Meanwhile, there’s a monster terrorizing South Korea, but this evolves into something funnier and stranger as it moves along.

This film wouldn’t be funny, compelling or oddly heartwarming if it weren’t for Anne Hathaway’s performance in the leading role of Gloria. Hathaway plays a walking mess of a person who’s just trying to keep her shit together, while not entirely succeeding at that goal. As much as I could see her big character flaws, I cared about Gloria and wanted her to overcome her issues. Some actors and actresses don’t really know how to properly play drunk and instead come off as obnoxiously pretending that they’re wasted, but I believed Hathaway’s performance. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if she was downing shots between her takes and I mean that in the best way possible.

On the supporting side of things, Jason Sudeikis makes a big impression here. Though he’s primarily known for comedies and COLOSSAL is technically a sci-fi comedy, Sudeikis gets room to flex his dramatic chops and Oscar is the most serious character that I’ve ever seen him play. I hesitate to say more, but Sudeikis becomes a force to be reckoned with in this film and I was surprised to see this performance coming from him. Dan Stevens occasionally pops up as Gloria’s concerned ex-boyfriend, who’s not exactly a jerk and yet has jerk-like qualities. I wish that Stevens role had been bigger, because the wrap-up to a certain plot thread would have felt more significant if he had more screen time. Also, Tim Blake Nelson is a welcomed presence as one of Oscar’s best friends and Austin Stowell is fast forgotten is a potential love interest.

Though it was made on a relatively small budget for a giant monster flick (15 million), COLOSSAL packs in great special effects. The creature design is unique and the news footage of it terrorizing Seoul is fun to watch. Director Nacho Vigalondo knows when to show the audience the chaos and when to leave it to our imagination. The less-is-more approach to certain scenes probably came from budget constraints, but these bits are effective in letting the viewer’s mind fill in the blanks. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of something combined with a few lines of dialogue can have more of an effect than showing tons of action.

If I have any complains about COLOSSAL, they stem from a couple of plot holes and the screenplay’s occasionally unfocused nature. It felt like the film was going to do more with Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, and Austin Stowell, and then completely forgot about them at points. Also, there’s an attempt to explain what’s going on and this explanation raises more questions than answers. Even with those problems in mind, COLOSSAL is a very fun, entertaining, and original flick. The comedy-drama elements are the main thrust of this story, with the monster stuff serving as a compelling twist on material that you’ve likely seen executed in many other comedy-dramas. This results in a cinematic oddity that’s thoroughly enjoyable and unique. If this sounds up your alley, then I highly recommend checking out COLOSSAL.

Grade: B+

MASTERMINDS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, some Language and Violence

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Directed by: Jared Hess

Written by: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer & Emily Spivey

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis & Ken Marino

MASTERMINDS was originally slated to hit theaters in August 2015 and, due to the studio declaring bankruptcy, its theatrical release was postponed until this weekend. When you look at the cast, crew, and source material behind this film, you get the sense that this might be an underrated sleeper hit of 2016. The script is based on a real-life heist of idiotic proportions, the cast features big comedic talent (including 3/4ths of the recent GHOSTBUSTERS remake) and director Jared Hess has tackled quirky comedies in the past (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, NACHO LIBRE). Though its true story is anything but bland and forgettable, MASTERMINDS somehow manages to be bland and forgettable. The film only received a handful of laughs from an awkwardly silent theater and a majority of those were caused by one particular cast member (more on him in a moment).

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The year is 1997 and the place is North Carolina. David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) drives an armored truck for Loomis Fargo and dreams of making a big name for himself. Though he always imagined fighting off robbers, David soon finds himself persuaded to steal over 17 million dollars from his workplace due to the urgings of sexy co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and her manipulative friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson). After the initial heist seemingly goes off without a hitch, tensions soon erupt within the group of white trash thieves. This is further elevated by FBI Special Agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones) hot on the case, with David as a prime suspect. Extravagant spending, bad disguises, crazy coincidences, and wacky backstabbing schemes soon follow.

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Look at that cast! Just look at them! Out of the bevy of recognizable faces, only one character sticks out: Jason Sudeikis as a psychotic hitman. He steals the entire show, as if there was much worth stealing in the first place, and provides the film’s only laughs. I cannot overstate how funny Jason Sudeikis is in this film. This is one of the Sudeikis’s best performances and it’s tragically trapped in one of the worst films of his career. Everyone else comes off as various degrees of bland, though the end credit bloopers show that they all seemed to have fun on the set.

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Zach Galifianakis’s only funny bits have already been given away in the trailer (the best of which involves a horribly misguided disguise), meaning there weren’t that many to begin with. His performance is phoned in, but it’s nothing compared to the Kristen Wiig’s hollow love-interest role. Kelly Campbell’s relationship with David might have been interesting in a better film, but I never really understood where she was coming from and eventually gave up on any attempt to care. Owen Wilson’s villainous Steve Chambers has an okay running gag of overspending (a detail that’s completely accurate to the ridiculous true story), but his presence is underutilized. Kate McKinnon is cringe-worthy as David’s mentally unhinged fiancé and Leslie Jones doesn’t get much to do as the FBI agent investigating the case.

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As mentioned before, MASTERMINDS is funniest during Jason Sudeikis’s scenes. If the film had maintained that level of energy and hilarity for a majority of the running time, this would be a very different (far more positive) review. The script frequently stoops to low-brow potty humor, instead of focusing on the hilarity of the ludicrous true crime story that inspired it. The worst joke comes in a fart gag that devolves into a diarrhea scene. Another needlessly unfunny moment has a character farting into another character’s butt. That’s the level that this film is playing on. Jared Hess’s past efforts have showcased a unique sense of humor that works for some viewers and doesn’t quite work for others. I like NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE, but MASTERMINDS feels like it’s attempting to recapture that quirkiness with a bigger budget and frequently falls flat. I wouldn’t be surprised if the studio meddled with this film to the point where it didn’t resemble Hess’s original vision at all or he might have simply lost his touch on this project.

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It should speak volumes that I laughed more whilst reading the Wikipedia page about the 1997 Loomis Fargo heist than I did for most of MASTERMINDS’s running time. I’ll say it again, Jason Sudeikis’s hitman is the funniest thing in this whole damn movie. The rest of it is generic, bland, and lazy. There’s really no discernible excuse for why this film shouldn’t have been hilarious. The material is perfectly honed for this director and the cast seem primed to make this into a goofy romp. Sadly, MASTERMINDS is a disappointment that only contains a handful of laughs and an interesting true story that’s far more entertaining than the film itself.

Grade: D+

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and Action

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Directed by: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Written by: Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla & John Cohen

(based on the video game ANGRY BIRDS by Rovio Entertainment)

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key & Blake Shelton

I wasn’t expecting THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE to be great. After all, this film is based on an addicting cell phone app. That’s the current state of the film industry though, where a TETRIS trilogy gets greenlit and an EMOJI MOVIE is currently in production. I watched ANGRY BIRDS with hopes that it might be serviceable family entertainment. Not up to Disney or Pixar standards, but somewhere along the lines of a lesser DreamWorks film. I was horribly mistaken. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time and it’s not like this film doesn’t have good production values behind it either. ANGRY BIRDS features a talented voice cast and has solid animation, but the script is offensively lazy and a large portion of the jokes fall flat.

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On the aptly named Bird Island, easily infuriated Red (Jason Sudeikis) has been sentenced to anger management. In this frustrating program, the red flightless bird reluctantly befriends speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). Red’s anger management classes encounter unexpected turbulence when a mysterious ship arrives, filled with green pigs. The pigs are led by charismatic leader Leonard (Bill Hader), who quickly becomes popular in the bird community. However, Red becomes suspicious of these pigs and is written off as paranoid by his fellow feathered citizens. Soon enough, the outcast trio of angry birds become the only hope for Bird Island’s unhatched eggs.

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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sold on ANGRY BIRDS being a film from the get-go. The marketing was lame, but I heard a few surprisingly positive reviews and the animation looked good. This film was made by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the very same company that made the ANGRY BIRDS app to begin with, and currently holds the record for the largest budget in Finnish film history. Apparently those investments paid off for them, because this film banked at the box office and there’s already a sequel in the works. Why am I discussing the production of this film, rather than the qualities of the movie itself? Well, those details seem remarkably more interesting than anything I can really say about this dull slog of wasted animation.

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The film’s story seems to be making itself up as it goes along, with many filler scenes before the all too brief conflict between angry birds and green pigs. This film seems like an origin story for the ANGRY BIRDS universe, but forgets part of why that game was so enjoyable in the first place. You’re launching birds at evil green pigs to retrieve eggs. This movie takes over an hour before it finally reaches that point, not that it necessarily would have been better to watch birds vs. pigs for an hour of screen time. What I’m getting at is that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE runs way too long. This film could have easily been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes and it would have made for a less painful experience.

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The film’s talented voice cast is completely wasted on bottom-of-the-barrel potty humor and pop culture references. Both of those can be well-executed in kid’s films, but ANGRY BIRDS drops the ball numerous times. There’s a forced SHINING reference with two pigs, a Calvin Klein ad with a pig, cholesterol jokes and plenty of substituted profanity (e.g. “Peck my life” and “Shell yes”). Are we laughing yet? Well, if those don’t do it for you, surely you’ll be rolling in the aisle from lame bird puns, a sequence of a snot-nosed bird flying through the air and smearing mucus everywhere, butts being thrown into other birds faces, and an elongated pee joke that’s already been spoiled in the trailer. It’s a wonder that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE wound up hitting 3,932 theaters, because this thing feels like it should be debuting direct-to-video in Redbox and discount Wal-Mart bins.

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Are there any redeeming qualities to ANGRY BIRDS? Well, two adult-aimed jokes are genuinely clever and the animation is fun to look at. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the target audience for THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, because I’m clearly not. However, THE LEGO MOVIE also sounded stupid in theory and wound up being one of the best films of 2014. It’s possible to make any idea, regardless of how idiotic and stupid it sounds, into a great or fun film, if there’s enough talent, effort and love thrown into the project. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is not that kind of movie. Instead, this lazy cash-grab will probably occupy bored children for 97 minutes, but likely won’t do much for teenage viewers and adults.

Grade: D

THE TEN (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue and Nudity, and for Language and some Drug Material

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Directed by: David Wain

Written by: David Wain & Ken Marino

Starring: Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Ken Marino, Oliver Platt, Liev Schreiber, Rob Corddry, Michael Ziegfeld & Jessica Alba

THE TEN flaunts a potentially fun concept. The writer/director of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and ROLE MODELS crafts an anthology centered around 10 comedic tales that cover the ten commandments. That sounds like a blast. David Wain is known for his weird and totally random sense of humor. His oddball jokes helped fuel a cult following in SUMMER and also supported a hilarious season of the Comedy Central’s bizarre short-lived STELLA. Unfortunately, David Wain isn’t at the top of his game in this messy anthology. THE TEN has some enjoyable segments, but succumbs to downright unfunny and lame skits that feel way too desperate. Paul Rudd serves as a narrator introducing each new commandment and his wooden delivery doesn’t do any favors to the film either. I’ll keep my descriptions of the segments/commandments vague (as some a couple of them last for two minutes tops), but will dive into my criticisms or praise to be found in each.

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THOU SHALT NOT WORSHIP NO GOD BEFORE ME: After falling out of an airplane, a man becomes an unexpected celebrity and this newfound fame consumes him. This short plays out like a joke with no punchline. Though there are two brief chuckles, the best I can say about this segment is that it’s very brief (five minutes). The first commandment feels like a throwaway joke that was stretched on for five minutes. D

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THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN: A virginal librarian has a fling with a mysterious man in Mexico that produces an unexpected revelation. This short had some potential in its execution, but mostly plays out like a one-note joke. Again, it made me chuckle a couple of times, but that’s about all the reaction it got out of me. This is slightly worse than first segment, which doesn’t exactly kick off the comedic anthology on a strong note. D-

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THOU SHALT NOT MURDER: A doctor pulls a prank that has deadly consequences for his patient and dire ones for himself. This segment felt like a decent College Humor skit made its way into this film. I was amused, even if the laughs ranged on moronic. The short also sets up characters in two of the better segments down the line. B-

HONOR THY MOTHER AND THY FATHER: Two black children demand to know the identity of their biological father and their white mother goes to extreme lengths to give them the answer. This segment felt so awkward, stupid, and bad that it just stuck out like a sore thumb as easily the worst of the 10 shorts here. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S GOODS: A pompous asshole (played wonderfully by Liev Schreiber) competes with his neighbor after an impromptu CAT scan machine purchase. The situation spirals out of control. I was cracking up during multiple parts of this segment and wish that the rest of the commandments were as entertaining. Easily the best tale of the bunch. A-

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE: The doctor from the third segment finds himself in prison. He’s cell mates with an abusive rapist but falls in love another prisoner (Rob Corddry). Though I can see most folks not enjoying this segment, Rob Corddry usually brings up the quality of any project he’s in. The dead-pan seriousness that this “romance” plays out in is also quite funny. B-

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THOU SHALT NOT STEAL: The seventh commandment is very hit or miss. A woman (introduced in the first segment) falls in love with a ventriloquist dummy. The serious execution of this unconventional romance bring most of the successful jokes, but there are almost an equal number of misses. The sheer stupidity of the tale will turn people off, but I enjoyed it as a bit of a guilty pleasure. C+

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS: A heroin addict asks about the origin of a special brand of heroin. This leads into an impromptu piece of animation that aims for shock value and forgets any laughs to be had. This really felt like the turning point in which the movie (which already wasn’t great by any means) decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. Unfortunately, nothing stuck at all. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY: Paul Rudd, already acting as a lifeless narrator in the wraparound, gets him time to shine here and the writing doesn’t do him any favors. Rudd would go on to be hilarious in later efforts (he’s arguably the funniest part of KNOCKED UP), but there’s no effort put into this brief segment from either Rudd or Wain. F

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REMEMBER THE SABBATH AND KEEP IT HOLY: The tenth commandment centers a man who would rather be naked at home on a Sunday than at church with his family. His newfound nudity gains popularity among his friends. Though this final segment may have gotten a brief chuckle out of me, it feels like this was a potentially funny joke that might have made for a small scene in a narrative feature, but gets stretched out to an excruciatingly long 10 minutes. It’s an ever so slight improvement above the last two tales, but sends the overall jumbled anthology out on a sour note. D-

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THE TEN has a cool premise, but doesn’t fully utilize it. The only commandment that I out-and-out loved was “Coveting Thy Neighbor’s Goods” as the dark sense of humor and Schreiber delivered solid laughs. There are also three that range between are okay (Shalt Not Murder, Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife, and Shalt Not Steal). The rest of the stories feel like a simple jokes stretched to their unfunny breaking points or phoned in attempts at shock value. In the end, I can’t recommend THE TEN. I’m sure somebody’s already said this before, but Thou Shalt Not See This Movie!

Grade: D+

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content and Language throughout

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Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Sean Anders & John Morris

Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Banks, Keegan-Michael Key & Kelly Stables

In Summer 2011, HORRIBLE BOSSES came out. I found it to be a hilarious film that blended workplace humor with dark comedy. It was almost like THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN and OFFICE SPACE got thrown in a blender. It’s over three years later and HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 has made its way into theaters over Thanksgiving weekend. After watching the sequel earlier today, I can safely say that the more I dwell on it, the less I like it. It isn’t bad, but it certainly doesn’t live up to anything close to the original film. It’s a typical sequel that suffers from failing to live up to a solid predecessor. HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 should be entertaining for fans of the first movie just to a lesser degree.

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In the first film, Nick, Kurt and Dale tried to kill their three awful bosses. This led to one of those bosses actually dying, another winding up in prison and the last being forced to attend sex addiction meetings. Now, Nick, Kurt and Dale (the last of whom is married and has triplets) have started up their own business. Doing a deal with the rich and powerful Burt Hanson, it seems like life is going on the right track as the guys are now their own bosses. This changes after a sneaky falling out by Hanson and his snot-nosed punk son. The trio are left with possible foreclosure and destruction of their company….which results in them being forced to take desperate measures in order to stay afloat. As we’ve seen in the previous film though, these guys are horribly inept criminals which leads to wacky antics.

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HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 tries to shake things up from changing the crime of choice from murder to kidnapping. It’s less daring in the crime and also less risky in its sense of humor. While the first film had a lot of dark laughs (since the whole movie was playing out like a funny version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), this sequel ups the stupid humor a few notches to an (at times) annoying level. It’s also written/directed by two people who had nothing to do with the first film and that became pretty apparent while watching it. In fact, Sean Anders and John Morris have been involved with two so-so sequels to acclaimed comedies in the space of a single month (they’re two of six screenwriters for DUMB AND DUMBER TO). HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 does contain some good laughs, but nearly overstays its welcome and betrays a couple of its leads.

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Jason Bateman is serviceable enough as level-headed Nick (who was a bland character to begin with), but Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day have been regulated to total morons in this second outing. They were dumb in the first film (resulting in some of its biggest belly laughs), but they weren’t all out idiots. These two started as legit and likable characters, but they’ve now been turned into bumbling jerks whose sole purpose is to throw out punchlines. To make up for a woefully underused Christoph Waltz as the chief antagonist, Chris Pine is a welcome addition as the kidnap victim. Kevin Spacey returns for a nice cameo, but Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Foxx nearly steal the show. Aniston is hysterical as the (still) sex addicted Julia. However, Jamie Foxx is back as Motherfucker Jones and he’s given a whole lot more screen time to use in this sequel. Every scene featuring either of those two at least got a chuckle out of me.

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HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is alright when taken on its own merits, but a disappointment next to the stellar 2011 comedy. I was cracking up throughout all of the first movie, but only found myself really laughing during this sequel when certain characters were on-screen or in other select moments. Replacing the dark humor with stupid humor and dumbing down two of the best characters into punchline spewing idiots kills some of the energy. These were both bad decisions on the part of two people trying to latch on to the 2011 hit without grasping what really made it so successful to begin with. Given the poor consensus and small box office receipts for this sequel, I wouldn’t expect a HORRIBLE BOSSES 3 any time soon. If you want to laugh hysterically at a HORRIBLE BOSSES movie, then just stay home and watch the original again.

Grade: C+

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