If Horrible Bosses, the new R-rated comedy directed by documentarian turned fictional filmmaker Seth Gordon, had been released back in the summer of 2007, it might not seem all that funny. Pit Gordon’s raunchy and rather dark flick against films like Knocked Up and Superbad (which both came out in ’07) and it’d pale in comparison. But we’re in 2011, and Horrible Bosses is hitting theaters on the underwhelming coattails of the barely mediocre Bad Teacher and the entirely awful The Hangover Part II, for which Gordon should be more than pleased. Barring the far superior Bridesmaids, the year’s funniest movie thus far, Horrible Bosses is still the best comedy to hit theaters in quite some time.
So what’s the problem? Oddly enough, Gordon’s workplace revenge pic isn’t crazy enough, despite its inherently demented premise and willingness to sprinkle cocaine sight gags wherever there’s room. It’s the kind of comedy that makes you chuckle often, yet, once it’s over, there’s nary a quotable to walk outside of the theater reciting, or a standout bit that dudes and their friends will play back inside bars. But, again, fans of laugh-fests are still licking the wounds thrust upon them from Cameron Diaz's middling Bad Teacher and the Wolfpack’s monstrosity of a record-breaking sequel, so, with timing on its side, Horrible Bosses gets the job done.
And, in some respects, quite well. To Gordon’s benefit, the film’s ensemble cast of on-the-verge comedic stars and A-listers slightly slumming it is uniformly strong, led by the unwavering chemistry formed within the trifecta of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day. With Bateman at his droll straight-man best, Sudeikis and Day are given the freedom to steal scenes through bombastic energy and deliver the showiest dialogue, though Day, the movie’s wild card, does frequently suffer from manic overkill. But the real draws in Horrible Bosses are its less prominent characters, the three titular employers played by Kevin Spacey (relishing the opportunity to play a total douchebag), Colin Farrell (equally fun in an against-type role, ugly hairpiece and all), and Jennifer Aniston (barely clothed, dirty-talking, spray-tanned, and sexier than ever).
It’d take a script typed backwards to completely undermine such an impressive group of performers, and, thankfully, credited screenwriters John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, and Michael Markowitz have whipped up a story that’s surprisingly unpredictable. Built around a slick central premise, that of three disgruntled workers' plot to kill each others’ insufferable superiors, Horrible Bosses veers into several fascinating plot turns, flipping the expected progression of its volatile concept with risky irreverence. Risky in the sense that, for those hoping to watch Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day go on a hilarious killing spree, in some sort of Patrick Bateman/American Psycho styled pitch-black comedy, the script’s plot reconfigurations disappoint just as much as they delight.
And therein lies the major flaw that prevents Horrible Bosses from registering as a full-fledged comedy score. Just as the film shows signs of pushing Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day into a tailspin of subversive debauchery and slapstick violence, it flips the safety on after firing off mere flesh wounds, not impactful body shots.
If Nothing Else, Horrible Bosses Has All The Right Weaponry Intact
Even if the outcome isn’t the batshit riot of misbehavior it should have been, it’s a damn good time getting to know the film’s morally bankrupt characters. First on the block is Bateman’s Nick, a corporate management candidate who lives by a shameless philosophy: “The key to success is taking shit.” And that he does, directly from his company’s president, Dave Harken (Spacey), an arrogant prick who loves to mess with Nick’s head, coercing him into drinking scotch before noon and teasing Nick’s possible promotion to Senior Vice President, a position that Harken ultimately gives to himself. Nick’s buddy Kurt (Sudeikis), meanwhile, works as an accountant for a lovable boss (Donald Sutherland), who dies from a heart attack, leaving the company to his detestable cokehead son, Bobby Pellitt (Farrell); Bobby’s first order of business is firing all of the “fat people,” before moving ahead with the dumping of potentially life-threatening toxic waste.
Next to his friends’ issues, Dale’s (Day) dilemma sounds like a walk in the park. He’s engaged to a cute blonde, which falls right into his lifelong dream of becoming a husband. At work, he’s a dental assistant, though not by choice—it’s the only place that’d hire him after he was caught urinating in a kids’ park after hours and labeled as a sex offender. And s-e-x is exactly what his boss, dentist Dr. Julia Harris (Aniston), wants from him, using such unsubtle tactics as spraying water on his crotch and pleading for his “dong” in front of sedated patients. Again, not so bad, except that Julia tells Dale that she’ll show his fiancée risqué photos she took of the two of them—while he was sedated himself—if he doesn’t give it up.
Convinced that the only course of action is to murder their loathsome bosses, the guys head to a seedy bar in the projects to find a hitman-for-hire; who they meet, however, is an ex-con named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx, in a small yet well-played role) who charges $5,000 to be their “murder consultant.” Using Motherfucker’s half-assed advice, the fellas go on recon missions inside the bosses’ homes to obtain information about their weaknesses, and their sloppy ways lead to follies, accidental drug use, guilt-filled sex, and inadvertent manslaughter.
Yes, and plenty of genuine laughs, to boot. Horrible Bosses gets the most mileage out of the banter between its three leads, spending the bulk of its running time showing their characters plotting and commenting on all of the insanity that’s afoot. Fortunately, Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day are pros when it comes to comedic timing. For Sudeikis specifically, the Saturday Night Live favorite brings the funny through off-the-cuff remarks and oddly charming sleaziness; Bateman, with his deadpan facial reactions and agitated reasoning, channels some of his Arrested Development presence; and Day, who has the now-prerequisite Zach Galifianakis-inspired “loud man-child” role, complements Bateman’s and Sudeikis’ more subdued performances nicely.
Sometimes, Being Just Funny, And Not Hilarious, Is A Problem
It’s hard not to wish that they were given more to do than just talk with potty mouths and react to the crazy shit that others are doing. For a movie about angry employees trying to kill their higher-ups, Horrible Bosses has three of the least proactive main characters imaginable. Even more underused is Farrell, an actor who’s prone to getting lost within dreary movies as the big star; here, though, he’s a minor entity, afforded no more than ten minutes’ worth of screen time despite his ability to dominate each of his scenes.
Perhaps unfairly, Horrible Bosses stepped into the cinematic batter’s box with an 0-2 count; no thanks to the underwhelming nature of this summer’s other, aforementioned (and afore-bashed) comedies, director Seth Gordon’s funny-enough flick has been anticipated by people looking to laugh uncontrollably as the season’s probable saving grace. But it’s not that, at least in terms of overall quality; rather, it’s an often humorous showcase for a bunch of naturally funny movie stars to riff off each other and behave badly, though not nearly as reprehensibly as one would hope.
What does it say about us that a movie in which Jennifer Aniston touches herself in a bubble-covered bath, Jason Sudeikis sticks a toothbrush up his ass (pause?) while Jason Bateman goes on a coke rant, and Colin Farrell smacks an Asian hooker’s ass doesn’t seem outlandish enough? Nothing good, most likely. Yet such choice moments of unadulterated silliness are too sporadically achieved. Horrible Bosses tickles boundaries instead of pushing them; still, it’s this year's the best summer comedy (so far) not titled Bridesmaids. So that’s something…right?