A character in the new “Boss Baby” movie, “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” has a hankering for sweets. He sits there and eats ice cream and soda and lollipops and, yes, even handfuls of sugar itself. Of course he does – he’s a baby and babies don’t have any self control. At the same time, as a baby, he’s locked in to certain aspects of that life, including his size. He attempts to work around this potential size impediment, but it’s always there and his ways around it can be awkward. This notion of not having any self control while still be locked in to a specific form, as it turns out, is a fairly good lens through which to view this entire sequel.
Directed by Tom McGrath and written by Michael McCullers (both returning from the original), things start off here with our lead characters from the first, Tim and Ted, making their way in the world as adults. James Marsden, has taken over for Tobey Maguire and Miles Bakshi who played adult and young Tim, respectively, in the original while Alec Baldwin is reprising his role as Ted.
Tim has a wife, Carol (Eva Longoria), and kids, seven-year-old Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and baby Tina (Amy Sedaris). Ted has a high paying hedge fund CEO job, which is exactly what one imagines he’s always wanted. From there, the movie has to work out a way for Tim and Ted to turn back into kids. It simply will not do to have Ted be an adult for the majority of the film – he’s the boss baby; we are necessarily locked into a form, even if it’s one that makes elements of the movie more difficult.
Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel both reprise their roles as Tim’s parents, but they have nothing to do in the movie. Again though, we’re locked into a form that puts the characters in the proceedings.
With these fact in place, the movie careens around from one plot point to the next. Rarely does it stop to contemplate what any of it means, sometimes not even bothering to return to a particular bit of story. It offers ideas without making connections between them and largely progresses a tale that perhaps equals the insanity of the first film without ever being as amusing.
As with the original, there is the start of a good notion at the movie’s core—in this case it is the idea that Tabitha is trying to find her way out from under her father’s shadow while Tim has to get comfortable with the idea of her growing up—but this is something that the filmmakers simply offer up and then never actually explore. It is as though merely stating out loud that this is the emotional center is enough, no follow through is necessary; there is no self control to deliver that messaging, not when there are shiny amusements, like ponies, elsewhere.
Okay, so what is this freewheeling tale? Well, Tina and the baby corporation believe that the school Tabitha attends is evil and that the head of the school, Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), is doing something nefarious. There are branches of the school popping up all over the world and there is something off about it all. Tim and Ted must find out the truth.
Do not trouble yourself with silly questions about this, including how Armstrong is actually in charge of Sally’s specific class and why she happens to be at the chief branch of the school or why Armstrong appears in the classroom on a TV, Max Headroom-style. It’s not important. It’s just one of those things that will make you wonder, kind of like the movie using “The Time Warp” or “Push It” on the soundtrack.
This critic would argue that none of this Armstrong stuff is actually occurring any way; that the entire thing is simply another in a long line of fantastical stories told by Tim to his kids, that it’s his way of working out his hopes and fears, of helping explain the world to them. “Family Business” certainly makes a whole lot more sense viewed in this fashion, it would at least explain the baby ninja army, but the movie doesn’t offer it as confirmed fact. That would be a step too far.
In short, this is a loud, colorful, boisterous sequel. It is a movie equally at home tossing in Run-D.M.C., Salt-N-Pepa, and Rocky Horror as it is with Yusuf (Cat) Stevens and Robert Allen & Al Stillman’s “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.” It is a movie that wants to be about children growing up and coming into their own, about parents letting go, and about sibling rivalries. However, the entire time, the tale feels hampered by it’s need to be a “Boss Baby” movie, by its need to center itself on authoritarian children doing almost adult-like things. It is a movie that jumps and shouts and yells and becomes tedious in its own exuberance. One almost wants to tell it to sit down, count to 10, and start its story from the beginning, just so that we can all understand what’s happening. In the end though, we simply have to smile and nod and wait for the sugar high to wear off, so it can slide into a deep, happy, slumber as we sneak out of the room and move on to something else.
photo credit: Universal Pictures