Horrible Bosses is one of those annoying movies—a buddy-raunch comedy of the proudly dumb and blithely nonsensical variety—that keeps you laughing in spite of yourself almost from beginning to end. Equally irritating, for purposes of critical pontification, is the fact that the lead actors appear to be having such great fun with their roles. So while I feel a little guilty recommending this shameless multiplex fodder, there’s just no choice: I do.
The plot has an engaging comic clarity. Three late-30s professionals—Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis)—have had it with their abusive bosses. Nick, who works in finance, can no longer endure the petty humiliations to which he’s subjected by his manipulative overlord, Harken (Kevin Spacey). Dale, a dental assistant, is at the end of his tether with the raging sexual harassment of his boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). And Kurt, until recently content with his job as a company manager, is exasperated when the owner’s cokehead-wastrel son, Bobby (Colin Farrell), takes over after his father suddenly croaks. Since these are tough economic times, the guys are reluctant to spite their employers by quitting. So they decide to kill them.
Their first attempt to arrange the rubouts takes them to a “wet work” specialist (Ioan Gruffudd) who is, let’s say, all wrong for the job. Then, figuring that hitmen may be more numerous in a black neighborhood, they connect with a “murder consultant” called Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx). It turns out that Motherfucker was actually born Dean Jones, but as he says, “I can’t walk around with that Disney-ass name.” In any case, he’s a font of inventive suggestions, and the rest of the movie is of course a demonstration of the goofy ways in which the lads’ lethal stratagems go wrong.
Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis manage the easy rapport of longtime friends. Bateman remains a master of the deadpan throwaway. (Sneaking into Bobby’s house and surveying the vintage shag rug and satiny black bed sheets, he says, “It’s like a douchebag museum.”) Day, from the TV series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, has a wheezy, over-wound delivery that recalls Bobcat Goldthwait at his most lovable. And Sudeikis, playing a simple good-natured hunk, brings an undaunted cheeriness to even the most inscrutable lines. (“I’d like to bend her over a barrel and show her the 50 states.”) Spacey is always a treat to watch, of course, even when he’s channeling the blazingly hostile boss he played in Swimming with Sharks. And Farrell—at first almost unrecognizable under a bulb-like prosthetic brow and a weedy comb-over—throws himself into his against-type role with rousing abandon. True, his character is a one-note gag machine, but the gags are good. (When Bobby talks about “trimming the fat” at the company, he means firing all the fat people.)
On the other hand, Aniston’s character is so thoroughly implausible that it throws the movie’s comic balance out of whack. The actress is a slinky brunette here, and her over-sexed dentist is such a rampant libertine (“I fingered myself so hard, I broke a nail”) that you have to wonder how bad it could really be to have her as a boss—or why she’d ever set her sights on a dweeb like Dale. Then again, Aniston is clearly enjoying herself enormously, and you might wish she’d venture out beyond her rom-com comfort zone more often, if only in search of a more credible script than this one.
It must also be said that the movie’s broad satire of reverse sexual harassment is probably something that only male filmmakers might have devised; and the casual racism of some early scenes—although it’s later stepped back as a mocking of white-boy cultural assumptions—might not seem all that side-splitting to a black audience.
Still, the picture has a fine rude energy, and director Seth Gordon sets up the laughs with gratifying efficiency. Horrible Bosses may not be the funniest film of the year, but it’s the only really funny one opening this weekend. Surely a little gratitude is in order.
Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be published in November by St. Martin’s Press.
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