Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Horrible Bosses (2011)

The very premise of Horrible Bosses is something that can only really work at certain periods. Like it's spiritual predecessor 9 to 5, it comes at a time of economic hardship, when the would-be working class heroes would like nothing more than to show their pigish, entitled bosses what's what. In a time of prosperity, their scheme would seem unnecessarily and selfish, a case of biting the hand that feeds. But in a recession like ours, they become cathartic heroes. Let's be honest, all of us who work have had a moment where we really just wanted to stand up to our bosses and give them a piece or our minds. Even if Horrible Bosses doesn't completely stick it's landing, it's a goofy film that gets by on the success of its leads.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) all have a problem: their bosses are terrible, terrible people. Nick's boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) denied him a promotion, choosing to give it to himself instead and attributing it to Nick's "drinking problem." Dale's boss, Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), is sexually aggressive and voracious, determined to have sex with him even though he's engaged. Kurt's boss, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell), is morally repugnant, asking him to fire all of the fat people and handicapped people as well as authorize illegal chemical dumps. The three men come up with a plan to kill each other's bosses, a plan that, of course, is destined to go awry.

The film's greatest strength comes from it's terrific actors, namely the central trio. The camaraderie between Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis is rich and believable, helping the audience buy the idea that these guys have been close friends for years. In a premise such as this, that kind of bond is especially helpful, and it gives the humor more depth (compared to, say, the trio from The Hangover). Jamie Foxx's terrific cameo as the trio's "murder consultant" is hilarious, though of the trio, Day shines the brightest with his manic exasperation and dimness, not too far removed from his character on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The bosses fare a little less well, however. Spacey is deliciously devilish, but his character soon becomes the kind of character Kevin Spacey seems to always be playing. Farrell has the funniest and most against-type performance of the group, but he has precious little screentime to really make a great impression (his Bobby is a lot like Tom Cruise's Les Grossman from Tropic Thunder, only with half the time).  The most problematic one, though, is Aniston's Julia. It's great to see America's-Sweetheart-Before-Sandra-Bullock-Came-Along get to be raunchy and conniving, but of all the bosses, she's the shallowest, not so much a character than a sentient sex drive. The film wants us to ogle Aniston, and though sexual harassment is pretty serious, you can't blame the guys for making fun of Dale's problem when surely it can't be too hard to report her.

It also really doesn't help that the script, by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan M. Goldstein, loses steam by the third act, starting with a bizarre, promising twist but then getting lost in itself, relying on an implausible deus ex machina. However, director Seth Gordon stages everything in an Altman-esque way, with plenty of overlapping dialogue and creative shots. He does a great job at tying everything together presenting it in an interesting way, much as he did in King of Kong and his various episodes of The Office.

Overall, Horrible Bosses is an amusing comedy that certainly delivers some quality laughs. It's a disposable, sure, but not without its own merits. B


Dan O. said...

Briskly paced is a good way to describe it. Felt like it had just the right pacing, and then ended right about when it should have. I liked it a lot more than this though, no love for Jennifer Aniston throwing caution to the wind? I thought she was excellent. Nice review.

Tom Clift said...

I'm not sure I agree with the concept you set out in your first paragraph, as I'm pretty sure people would fantasize about murdering their bosses no matter what the economic climate! :P

Still, I totally agree with the rest of your review. It's a silly premise with an okay script that is elevated by a fantastic cast. I even quite liked Jennifer Anniston (although the highlights for me were definitely Farrell and Day).