Horrible Bosses will never win any awards and will probably never be considered a classic, but it will make you laugh quite a bit, and really that’s all that matters with this sort of thing. The concept is pretty simple: Bosses can be jerks, which can be funny. If those bosses were so bad that a group of friends decided to try and kill each other’s bosses, then surely that would be funny as well.
The good news for audiences is that both of those theories prove to be correct by the time the credits roll. It’s pretty simple stuff, but in the hands of a ridiculously talented comedy cast and with a smart director behind the camera, the laughs keep coming no matter how simplistic or tired the central concept can seem at times. In comedies like this, a good cast is all you really need and the concept is just dark, subversive, and R-rated (or a relaxed 14A for us Canadians) enough to be compelling for 90 minutes. The entertainment is wafer thin, but when done well that can be enough.
The film stars Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis as the employees stretched to their breaking point by their bosses. Bateman loses the big office promotion promised to him by Kevin Spacey at his most pompous and assholish, a cartoon variation on his Swimming With Sharks character. Sudeikis has been working his way up in his office only to have his boss and mentor die and be replaced by his incompetent coke, hooker, and combover loving son (Colin Farrell). Day has it easiest amongst the boys. He’s engaged but is constantly propositioned by his oversexed boss played by Jennifer Anniston. That’s not so bad, but he’s frustrated too and they all agree to kill each other’s bosses in a criss-cross Strangers On A Train kind of way (they even name drop the Hitchcock classic in the movie). That sets things off for a movie that feels like a live action cartoon with a sick sense of humor. Along the way they team up with murder consultant named Motherfucker Jones (a character name that I’m sure he’s thrilled to have on his resume) and the plot admirably takes a few unexpected twists from there.
Bad bosses have been comedy staples for years and nothing in this movie adds anything particularly new or exciting to that comedy cliché. But while the film might hinge on an old joke, we can credit the cast and director for telling it very well. Bateman of course does his usual awkward man routine and does it well, teamed up with two fantastic idiots in Sudeikis and Day. Sudeikis plays a wise-cracking oversexed male and is talented enough to pull it off, but as he proves on SNL every week he’s best at surreal and over-the-top characters, and feels restrained here. The real stand out of the three leads is Charlie Day. He essentially plays the same confused manchild from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and that’s a good thing. Bateman and Sudeikis are locked into character types, but Day can cut loose as the real wild card idiot of the team and gets easily the most laughs in the movie. He kills every time he’s on camera and hopefully the movie will raise his profile and draw some fresh eyes to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. That’s been the best American sitcom on TV for years now and both the show and its cast deserve a higher profile. If Day breaks out as a star maybe it will finally elevate the show above cult status and become the full on hit that it’s long deserved to be.
On the boss side of things, Jennifer Anniston clearly has a blast destroying her good girl image as a sexually obsessed and aggressive seductress. It’s her funniest performance in years and should please guys in the crowd as well, for obvious ladyparts-shaking reasons. Kevin Spacey trots out his evil Swimming With Sharks boss again, which would be irritating if he weren’t so damn good at it. Spacey doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen him do before, but his theater career has kept him from movies (especially comedies) for so long that it’s actually a treat to see him snarl and smug it up on the big screen again. The last piece of the boss equation is of course Colin Farrell, which seems out of place, but good God does he ever commit to the role. Armed with a bad combover and a beer belly, the guy ditches his pretty boy move star image to play easily the most disgusting of the evil bosses. He parties with hookers in the office, snorts up countless drugs, and demands that his wheelchair-bound employee be fired so that he can use the handicapped parking pass. Farrell digs into the disgusting role with full force and is surprisingly funny, at times sounding like he’s doing a Michael Keaton impression (I would have preferred to actually see Keaton in the role, but Farrell’s funny and I’ll takes what I can gets). All six of the main characters in Horrible Bosses are perfectly cast. Though the script can be a little creaky, with at least two of these six actors on screen at any time, no scene passes without at least one guttural belly laugh.
The film was directed by Seth Gordon who made the amazing Donkey Kong obsession documentary King Of Kong (and also Four Christmases, but let’s forget that for now). Gordon clearly has a great comedic mind, cast his movie exquisitely, and let the actors improvise up a storm. All the improv brings the funny in the movie, but also accounts for it’s biggest weakness. When scenes are allowed to expand and explode through improv, the overall structure takes a hit. Narrative drive can disappear and the balance goes out of wack. In a mocumentary like This Is Spinal Tap, that’s fine. But for a movie like Horrible Bosses that wants to weave suspense and thriller elements within the comedy, that’s deadly. There’s never any real tension about the crimes being committed, which is a shame because that would have brought the movie to another level as a subversive comedy/thriller. Without much of a consistent narrative structure in place, Horrible Bosses is just a rambling, shapeless, improvisation festival with a killer cast. That makes for a damn funny movie and on a scene-by-scene basis Seth Gordon and co. bring the funny. It’s a shame that they weren’t able to do much else, but I suppose if your expectations are low, you’ll probably be laughing too much to care.