REVIEW: Horrible Bosses [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: July 8th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Seth Gordon
Writer(s): Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein /
Michael Markowitz (story)

“How you like ‘dem nipples?”

I had such high hopes. Between Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day being the leads, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston the supporters, and Jamie Foxx as the comedy’s comic relief, how could it have gone wrong? It must have been the writing, right? The trio tasked to tackle this tale of men trapped in jobs with the worst bosses possible, who hatch a plan to murder them all, ended up falling prey to the easy desire of catering the characters to the actors playing them. Bateman is Michael Bluth, his one authoritative “shut it down” straight from the annals of “Arrested Development”; Sudeikis is his usual crassly confident womanizer of which I already saw this year in Hall Pass; and Day is, well, he’s our favorite loveable Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. And while I love each in their respective worlds, put together in Horrible Bosses to do the same schtick I’ve seen time and time again while bitch-slapping each other on the heads is unfortunately really exhausting.

The people laughing hardest as they left the screening all had one thing to say, “that Charlie Day has the best voice, have you ever seen him before?” This is the crowd who ate it up, middle-aged folk without a clue as to who the comedians were on screen. Not knowing the brilliance of his illiterate whipping boy from TV, what Day does here seems fresh. To them Bateman may even still be that young man who took over for Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf Too. I’m sorry; it just doesn’t work together inside the concentrated mass put forth. Each actor is merely a shadow of himself, stuck in a rut and pigeonholed into being that which worked the past decade, frowned on if they attempt to branch out and grow in any way. Admittedly, the plot became so stale that I began looking too deeply into the story, questioning how anyone could believe Bateman went to high school with these other two guys seven years his junior and scratching my head at gags such as the three blocking each other as they attempt to pull out of a parking lot. Why does Sudeikis go around in a circle to cause this? Why?

It’s a real shame too because there are a few big laughs and a couple unforgettable supporting performances. And the premise is gold—three white guys, working and living in the ‘burbs, deciding they’ve had enough and are going to kill their employers. Like any stereotypical thirty-somethings without a clue as to how crime works on the streets, they check Craigslist for hitmen—leading to a fun turn by Ioan Gruffudd—and mosey into the part of the city with the highest rate of carjacking, courtesy of directions from Indian Gregory on the NavCom, to walk into a bar and scream, “who here murders people for a living?” The filmmakers could have ridden this search much farther, adding to some of the biggest laughs resulting from the juxtaposition of worlds. But instead they plant the seed that these white-collar types can do the deed themselves, take out each other’s bosses and keep all deniable plausibility intact. They’ve seen “Law & Order”; they know what not to do. How hard can it be to collect information, devise a foolproof ‘accidental’ death, and go on like nothing happened?

Well, when the victims in question are as crazy as this three, a lot can go wrong. Aniston’s Dr. Julia Harris is too attractive to not get her way with Day’s Dale and the guy has the kind of criminal record you don’t want making her sexual harassment unbelievable in terms of his word against hers. Spacey’s Dave Harken is the biggest ass anyone could ever wish upon a hated enemy, his company president’s complete disregard for the feelings and humanity of his employees going overboard to make the actor’s past role in Swimming with Sharks look like Mary Poppins. And Farrell’s cokehead inheritor of his father’s company is completely out of his mind—bringing prostitutes to the office, firing people because of their physique, and walking around with an embroidered dragon on his back to show off the fact he has a green belt in karate. It is a laundry list of comedic ticks to play upon and the film gets bogged down in finding the easy laughs with each. The comedy of errors that ensues has its moments, but the serendipitous way in which the dominoes fall couldn’t be full of more good luck if they tried.

So, while the employees get scared, overly brazen, and high as their bosses flex the blackmail clout they have over them, we are made to watch in hopes it will get funnier. Sadly, besides the out of left field moments like Day rocking out to The Ting Tings in Sudeikis’s car or the subtle movie references including Hitchcock, Throw Momma from the Train, and Good Will Hunting, the jokes are mostly on par with your usual primetime sitcom, plus curse words. It becomes a study in patience to wait for the next time Foxx comes onscreen—his drinking through a cocktail straw and shifty eyes are hilarious—and to spy upon the brilliance of Farrell’s comb over. In fact, besides the quick cameos from Isaiah Mustafa and Wendell ‘Bunk’ Pierce bolstering a rousing finale complete with our idiot heroes finally growing a pair, it is Colin Farrell’s complete transformation into an aging, greasy, blowhard addict and his gag-reel of gems during the end credits that steals the show. In other words, if you’re like me and are sorely disappointed in the wasted potential of a great cast and premise, just wait for outtakes. They’re like a reward from director Seth Gordon for wading through the rest.

[1] (L-R) JASON BATEMAN as Nick, JASON SUDEIKIS as Kurt, CHARLIE DAY as Dale and JAMIE FOXX as MF Jones in New Line Cinema’s comedy “HORRIBLE BOSSES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by John P. Johnson
[2] COLIN FARRELL as Pellit Jr. in New Line Cinema’s comedy “HORRIBLE BOSSES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by John P. Johnson
[3] (L-r) CHARLIE DAY as Dale, JULIE BOWEN as Mrs. Harken and KEVIN SPACEY as Dave Harken in New Line Cinema’s comedy ‘HORRIBLE BOSSES,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by John P. Johnson.

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