It’s no secret that the summer of 2011 has been a disappointment. Most of the tent poles have either failed financially or critically; sometimes both. The summer comedies on the other hand, especially the R-rated ones, have been enormously successful. Bridesmaids, The Hangover Part 2 and Bad Teacher have captured a combined $475 million domestically – and for the most part, have been quite good. With Friends with Benefits and 30 Minutes or Less on the way, my hopes remain optimistic.
Of all the comedies out this summer, none are as relatable as this weekend’s Horrible Bosses. A premise about three friends who decide to kill their overbearing bosses is something everyone has thought about at least one time or another (don’t judge me!). It’s also brilliant fodder for dark comedy. Add in an attractive title and a star-studded cast, and voila… you have the makings of a very good movie. But a comedy has to have interesting characters, funny jokes and a plot that works to succeed. When you have a perfect fusion of these elements, you get stuff like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, Bridesmaids and The Hangover (the 2009 version, not the 2011 one). Horrible Bosses unfortunately, isn’t a perfect fusion. While it has its share of funny moments, the worthless plot, lack of originality, and inane lead characters significantly handicap it from becoming anything more than filler.
Nick (Jason Bateman) is a corporate stooge who is supervised by the manipulative Harken (Kevin Spacey), a slimy tyrant who verbally abuses his employees and refuses to give Nick the promotion he deserves. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is a horny toad who has a great boss (Donald Sutherland). But after his boss suddenly drops dead, his coke and sex-addicted son Bobby (an almost unrecognizable Colin Farrell) takes over and abuses the company for his own personal endeavors. Dale (Charlie Day) is a dentist’s assistant at an office run by Dr. Julia (Jennifer Aniston), a nymphomaniac dentist who sexually harasses him every day at work. For most men, being seduced by woman who looks like Aniston would be a non-issue but Dale is devoted and in love with his fiancé. Aww…
After speculating about killing their bosses over a few rounds of drinks, the three men decide to proceed with their hypothetical plans when things reach a boiling point at work. But since the screenwriters insist that our heroes are astronomical imbeciles with IQs of baboons, things fail miserably from the outset. Think of it as a corporate version of The Three Stooges but with more cursing and idiotic behavior. Their first attempt to hire a hit man (via Craigslist) turns out to be a disaster. The second guy they hire, a M.F. Jones (Jamie Foxx in a funny cameo), tricks them into paying him to be their “murder consultant” instead of killing the bosses himself; His advice – off each other’s bosses as in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
Horrible Bosses would have been a terrific film if director Seth Gordon and his team of writers went the Fargo route of dark comedy or better yet… given his protagonists some personality. Barring the hatred of their bosses and their devotion to each other, there’s nothing here that identifies these guys as normal individuals with social lives. Dale is given a fiancé but she’s merely a plot device while Nick and Kurt are empty chalkboards who drink beer and play the Wii. Since director Gordon and team don’t have the balls to veer towards the dark (save for one moment of startling violence), Horrible Bosses becomes a goulash of stale predictability – down to the requisite car chase (in a Prius nonetheless), accidental drug use and police interrogation scenes. Naturally everything is neatly resolved neatly via a pathetic deus-ex-machina because the writers couldn’t be bothered with a more efficient way of closing things out.
On the performance end, only Charlie Day and Colin Farrell register. Day, whose style takes time getting used to, steals every scene from his more popular co-stars while Farrell, saddled with a beer gut, disgusting comb-over and beard, is riotous as the coke-addicted boss. It’s too bad that his role amounts to little more than a cameo. Aniston too is short-shafted by the script, disappearing for long stretches of the picture’s running time but that’s a good thing, seeing how she’s a terrible actress. That means Spacey, who hasn’t done anything of note since winning his second Oscar for American Beauty in 1999, becomes the picture’s primary antagonist by default. For the most part, he’s fine but considering that he’s already played the soul-sucking boss-from-hell in Swimming with Sharks, the role is a walk in the park. As for Bateman and Sudeikis… they’re superfluous. The former is saddled with a character as interesting as cabbage while the latter is supposed to be taken seriously as an irresistible ladies man. Give me a damn break!
Horrible Bosses is neither horrible nor great. It’s not even very good. At best, it’s a silly, predictable and derivative comedy that has its share of funny moments. In other words, it’s forgettable like most of the movies that have come out this summer.