Directed by Seth Gordon and Brad Lewis
Screenplay by Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley
Jason Bateman as Nick Hendricks
P.J. Byrne as Kenny Sommerfeld
Steve Wiebe as Thomas, Head of Security
Kevin Spacey as Dave Harken
Charlie Day as Dale Arbus
Lindsay Sloane as Stacy
Michael Albala as Mr. Anderton
Jennifer Aniston as Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S.
Jason Sudeikis as Kurt Buckman
How long is Horrible Bosses? 100 minutes
What is Horrible Bosses rated? R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.
Take This Job And…
Anyone who has entertained murderous fantasies about a bad boss… dare I say a horrible one… may safely enjoy this airy romp without crossing dangerous lines in real life. Director Seth Gordon, and a very funny ensemble cast, get into all kinds of trouble in this cathartic dark comedy.
Three mild-mannered pals – played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day – collectively decide that they have had enough of their respective employers. Bateman works for a heartless corporate psychopath (Kevin Spacey, doing his most colorful work in years). Sudeikis works for a coked-up loser (Colin Farrell with… ACK! comb-over) who inherited the company from his straight arrow dad (Donald Sutherland, in a kinder gentler version of his role in The Mechanic). Day is a dental hygienist in the employ of a crass, sexually domineering dentist (Jennifer Aniston) whose designs on his virtue threaten his upcoming marriage.
The trouble is that they know little, if anything, about the crafty art of murder, and much of the setup involves their search for advice in that area. In typical fashion for three white dorks, they start flashing cash in bad parts of town, hoping that eager hitmen will seek them out. Sure enough, an enterprising “murder consultant” (the excellent Jamie Foxx) agrees to teach them everything he knows, though he plainly appears to be thinking it all up on the spot.
Take one part 9 to 5, two parts Office Space, and a thin ribbon of either Strangers On A Train or Throw Momma From The Train (the script openly acknowledges the influence of the latter). Strain them through this year’s trend of enjoyable but not memorable grown-up comedies, à la Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. This is classic dark comedy material, which would work better if played much darker. The movie is at its best in the middle, when the three amigos actually try to plan and execute their triple murder plot. The setup of their plight, and its eventual resolution, suffer from pacing problems and weird plot choices. There is nothing so severe as to squander the story, but to summarize the film’s virtues with the word “droll” is also to concede that its faults fall under the heading “uneven.”
Make no mistake, the bosses are indeed horrible, as the not very inventive title suggests. If only this movie were more edgy and less goofy. Spacey and Bateman’s relationship, though the most conventional of the three, rings the most true. The promise of seeing Bateman snap under Spacey’s ruthless abuse and do something outrageously violent smolders constantly through the first act, but burns out when the plot veers in new directions. Colin Farrell, though delightfully funny and awful, is too cartoonish for this context. This villainous jerk belongs in a broader, more upbeat comedy alongside Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Jennifer Aniston, with a whole new look and attitude, will be refreshingly sleazy for hosts of immature men who have always wanted to see her with dark hair and too much eye makeup. Call it biased (or worse) if you must, but her scenario is more problematic than the rest. Sexual harrassment and coercion to infidelity are totally unacceptable no matter who exercises them and upon whom. Nonetheless, even Day’s buddies continually admit that many guys would dream of being cornered daily by a hot, uninhibited sex maniac. Obviously the satire is working on characters, audience, and even critics. Day’s adamant refusal of her advances is admirable, but it seems a little forced for the purposes of the story. Two things could have fixed this. Giving his fiancée a little more depth and positive development, instead of a few eye-rolling “love you honey” moments, would convince us why Day, the knucklehead of the group, is so steadfast in the face of temptation. In addition, Aniston should be more scary and degenerate, horrible in some way that not even her faithful admirers could deny.
The main thing holding this movie back from greatness is a persistent reluctance to probe the sinister potential of the story. The mere suggestion of violence and revenge is not sufficient to make a dark comedy of real weight. In the best movies of this kind, even the heroes give vent to violent urges and discover unsettling things about themselves. That does mean they cannot be likable, as long as their crimes are properly provoked, and a little tongue in cheek amorality does not overshadow their basic goodness. Consider Paul Bartel’s freaky cult classic Eating Raoul, in which two very nice people discover the benefits of murdering perverts for profit. Had the film been made thirty years later (fat chance), Jason Bateman would definitely be the leading man. Two other fine examples are hitman-in-crisis comedies, Prizzi’s Honor with Jack Nicholson and Grosse Pointe Blank with John Cusack. In each case, violence is an absolute necessity when things look their worst. The main trio in Horrible Bosses never fully face that kind of dilemma, and so besides momentary acts of boldness, they never have to change in order to help themselves.
Though underwritten and bumpy, Horrible Bosses is still plenty of fun. There is not a weak link in the cast, though Charlie Day gets mighty shrill after an hour or so. As it goes along, the movie becomes progressively less predictable and more zany, which in the absence of truly fiendish mischief at least keeps things interesting. The Coen brothers may not be breaking his door down yet, but it is nice to see Jason Bateman trying out a comedy with some teeth. If you have had a long and unpleasant work week, Horrible Bosses will not exactly satisfy your thirst for blood, but it still may taste mighty sweet.