Working for the Weakened
So, maybe there's hope after all. I'd expected Horrible Bosses to be another un-funny, alpha-male comedy in the vein of Hall Pass or Hot Tub Time Machine, but it's much better than it has any right to be. What the movie lacks in originality, it makes up in personality and hilarious, often rapid-fire dialogue delivered by a cast that makes a lot of really interesting choices.
Horrible Bosses is about three friends who hate their jobs for various reasons. Nick (Jason Bateman) works for the devil incarnate: a pompous, manipulating sociopath named Harken (Kevin Spacey) who coerces him into drinking Scotch at 8am and working ridiculous over-time for a promotion he dangles but never intends to grant. Dale (Charlie Day) is a dental assistant who, because of a hilarious technicality that led to his being placed on the Sex Offender Registry, is forced to take a job in the office of Dr. Harris (Jennifer Aniston)--a nympho who threatens to ruin Dale's recent engagement unless he puts up with constant sexual harassment. Lastly, we meet Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), the one guy who starts out loving his job, but who finds himself at the mercy of a bloated, Kung Fu-obsessed lowlife named Bobby (Colin Farrell) after the kind, old head of the company drops dead.
Over drinks one night, the three discuss the logistics of murdering their bosses. What begins as a boozy mental exercise evolves into a search for a cheap hit man. They follow one botched encounter at a seedy hotel room with a trip to an urban dive bar, where they meet an ex-con named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx). Since the guys can only scrape together five grand for their hit, Jones becomes a "murder consultant", helping them navigate the pitfalls of contract killing. The first step is a pact to kill one another's bosses, to throw cops off their scent.
The movie kicks into high gear as Nick, Dale, and Kurt set up surveillance missions and prove to be the world's most inept criminals. They're not stupid, just way out of their depth. On a single night, they destroy (and inhale) Bobby's massive cocaine stash and leave the cell phone they stole from his house inside Harken's mansion. Later, Dale inadvertently saves Harken's life by resuscitating him during a peanut-allergy attack. Throw in Kurt's inability to keep his pants on--leading to ill-timed affairs with both Dr. Harris and Harken's town-bike wife (Julie Bowen), and you have the perfect ingredients for a Big Mix-up Comedy.
I typically hate Big Mix-up Comedies because they're really hard to pull off. What sets Horrible Bosses apart from lesser films of its kind is the screenplay by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan M. Goldstein. Their characters are all sarcastically witty and vulgar, and manage--over the course of the film--to break out of archetype territory. Yes, Nick is The Buttoned Down One, Dale is the Hyperactive One, and Kurt is the Freewheeling Man-whore, but like the characters in Office Space, they maintain a slight air of relatability and truth throughout. Their reactions to the increasingly messy situations they find themselves in don't play as phony; this is most evident in their constant questioning of their own motives and schemes.
I also appreciate the fact that, like the excellent 30 Minutes or Less, the writers and director Seth Gordon aren't afraid to take their kooky premise to its logical, dark conclusion. There's a fantastic, shocking turn about halfway through the movie that shifts the tone into one of real, high stakes drama. Horrible Bosses is a comedy from start to finish, but it abruptly takes away its protagonists' upper hand and underscores all the jokes that come after with genuine desperation.
None of this would be possible without a wonderful trio of villains, who are so spectacularly weird that they might as well headline Batman's rogues gallery. Kevin Spacey appears to have reprised his role from Swimming with Sharks, playing Harken as an overpaid, undersexed boy who happens to run a company. His icy stare and delicious threats made me cringe. Colin Farrell essentially plays the Tom Cruise part from Tropic Thunder, burying his movie-star looks under fat padding and a gross, bulb-headed comb-over. Aside from his iffy American accent, he does a great job with the role, imbuing Bobby with a level of sexist, macho grandeur that is so specific it must have been modeled on a real person. Jennifer Aniston has the least to do, but it's refreshing to see her play the overbearing sexpot instead of the Good Girl Who Can't Get No Man. I've always felt that, as an actress, she's neglected her obvious physical attributes--perhaps intentionally--but in this movie, she explodes in a role that stops just shy of parody.
Despite all this high praise, Horrible Bosses has a couple of high-profile problems that almost ruin the whole show. The first is Charlie Day. I know his geek-cult cred from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is not to be sullied, but I have to say he grated on me. A cross between Police Academy-era Bobact Goldthwait and Hammy from Over the Hedge, he comes across as a walking, breathing cry for attention. He has slightly less manic tantrums in some scenes, but his exaggerated performance make Dale the least realistic of the three leads; that's not to say I didn't laugh a lot at his character's antics, but there is such a thing as too much chocolate cake.
The next problem, the doozy, is the film's climax. The creators spend so much time setting up what promises to be an intense and intricate showdown between the three monster bosses and their put-upon employees that to see everything squandered in a single, rushed car chase is nearly unforgivable. I can't get too far into this without spoiling the event that upset the movie's tone, but everyone's problems are resolved by conveniently-on-the-scene cops listening to a villain confessing everything on tape. I felt cheated, and if it hadn't been for the following ten minutes getting things (mostly) back on track, I probably would have written Horrible Bosses off as a loss.
Movies like this and 30 Minutes or Less offer a wonderful, stark contrast to easy, lowest-common-denominator fare like Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids. Yes, both sets of movies are comedies, but only one is funny, in my opinion, because they actually work for their laughs. Any hack can whip up a few diarrhea and dry-humping jokes, but it takes someone special to make a gag about a former Lehman Brothers executive offering hand jobs at Applebees for beer money into both a plot point and a tragi-comic statement about life outside the movie theatre. Horrible Bosses can be appreciated by switched-off yahoos who just want to hear the word "fuck" and get a nice near-shot of Jennifer Aniston's boobs; but it's made for a different caliber of comedy fan--one that's so fed up with the sad state of mainstream comedies that they could just kill someone.