Horrible Bosses, Seth Gordon, 98 mins (15)
Cars 2, John Lasseter, 112 mins (U)

Hurrah for the movies, where bad employers get their comeuppance

Anyone who felt let down by The Hangover Part II can cheer themselves up by seeing Horrible Bosses (horrible title), another raucous comedy about three middle-class white men who venture several leagues out of their depth – but one which has the advantage of not just being a carbon copy of the first Hangover film.

The three men are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, all of whom are stuck with the bosses from hell. (Must ... resist ... making ... News International ... joke.) Bateman is tyrannised by the reptilian Kevin Spacey. Sudeikis has to take orders from Colin Farrell, who has a comb-over and a coke habit, and who's running his father's company into the ground. (Must ... resist ...) Charlie Day, meanwhile, is being sexually harassed by Jennifer Aniston, a fantasy of many men, as his buddies keep reminding him, but the last thing he wants on the eve of his wedding. Realising that there are no other jobs open to them in the current economic climate, the three friends conspire one drunken evening to kill each other's bosses.

Given that premise, the humour isn't as dark as it needs to be. It can't convince us that the bosses deserve to die or that their cowed employees would be capable of doing the deed. What edginess the film does have comes instead from the inordinate quantity of swearing, plus a smattering of homophobia and misogyny. But in among all the swearing, etc, there's also an abundance of witty lines and cherishable situations, as the trio bumbles apologetically into the underworld.

The three leads' banter has the liveliness of expert improvisation – but, critically, it doesn't take over the film. In most of today's post-Judd Apatow comedies, the digressive improv slows things down to a crawl, whereas the director of Horrible Bosses never forgets that he's making a plot-driven farce, and he ensures that each moment of each scene propels the story forward at high speed, however much the men are wittering on about whether or not they've ever seen Snow Falling on Cedars. Horrible Bosses clocks in at a trim 98 minutes, a good half-hour shorter than any of Apatow's films. It's a hilarious example of less is more.

Cars was Pixar's only dull cartoon, but it was directed by the company's own not-at-all-horrible boss, John Lasseter, and it sold a zillion dollars' worth of merchandise, so here we are with Cars 2, also directed by Lasseter. To his credit, it isn't just a rerun of the first film. Far from it. Owen Wilson's Lightning McQueen, the hero of Cars, has fallen back into a minor supporting role, and it's his hick pal, Mater the tow truck, who's in pole position. While McQueen hops from continent to continent for a three-stage grand prix, Mater gets dragged into a spy caper by two British cars voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer.

The racing and the espionage don't fit together too snugly – it feels as if Lasseter had a spy movie idea and reworked it to suit the Cars brand – and the film ends up as an exhausting muddle of voice-activated bombs and electro-magnetic pulse emitters, with none of the emotional pull of Toy Story or Wall-E. Besides, we've seen James Bond with pets (Cats and Dogs, G-Force) and James Bond with children (Spy Kids, Agent Cody Banks), so James Bond with cars feels tired and formulaic by Pixar standards. Caine and Mortimer have already played versions of their characters in Austin Powers 3 and Steve Martin's Pink Panther movies, which gives you some sense of how far behind the pack Cars 2 is.

There's no question, though, that the animation is phenomenal, its many action sequences and international settings rendered in glowing, microscopic detail. And just as the first Cars connected with children more than with adults, Cars 2 is sure to be adored by young viewers who won't mind the weak puns or the sentimental bromides. There's nothing wrong with a cartoon providing a couple of hours' fun for children, of course. It's just that Pixar films usually do so much more.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber goes into battle with Captain America: The First Avenger

Also Showing: 24/07/2011

The Big Picture (115 mins, 15)

This French adaptation of Douglas Kennedy's novel stars Romain Duris (below) as a suburban lawyer who commits a violent crime when he discovers his wife's infidelity. As long as Duris is covering his tracks – cleverly, methodically, but never far from abject panic – The Big Picture is a well-constructed thriller, with some arch commentary on the bourgeoisie: it's Duris's wife's choice of white wine that gives her away. But then it drifts off into a wish-fulfilment reverie in which our hero is rewarded with effortless success. The film's second half is as as baggy and implausible as its first half is tense and cogent.

The Violent Kind (85 mins, 18)

The Violent Kind may be a cut-price horror movie about good-looking young people under attack from sinister forces in a remote house, but at least those young people are Hell's Angels, which makes a change from the usual college kids. And the strangeness multiplies as the film lurches along, until it's whirling with demons, aliens and all sorts of borrowings from Donnie Darko and Blue Velvet.

The Lavender Hill Mob (81 mins, U)

A 60th anniversary reissue of one of the finest Ealing comedies, starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway as two strait-laced chaps who plan a bullion robbery. The humour hasn't dated, but the plot certainly has, revolving as it does around souvenir trinkets being manufactured not in China but in London.

One Life (84 mins, U)

Family-friendly BBC wildlife documentary narrated by Daniel Craig.

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