Talented Cast Carries Dark Comedy of ‘Horrible Bosses’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – There’s a theory that a film that should be judged based on how well it succeeds at what it attempts to do. If it’s a comedy, does it make you laugh? “Horrible Bosses” has some issues but it is an undeniably funny movie. With stellar comic timing from the entire ensemble and a dark streak of edgy humor with just enough wit to make it not seem cruel, this is one of the straight-up funniest movies of the year.

The concept of Seth Gordon’s comedy is simple and relatable enough – merge Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on the Train” with today’s modern workplace nightmares. Most of us have had bosses we hated. It’s just the nature of the corporate ladder. If you’re lucky, you haven’t had one that was as truly loathsome as the trio of a-holes at the core of “Horrible Bosses,” three people who push the film’s protagonists a few steps too far and set in motion a devious plan for co-operative murder – you kill my boss, I kill his boss, he kills your boss. It’s the kind of ludicrous plan that you’d only find in the movies and seems clearly inspired by the men-behaving-badly genre reignited by the success of “The Hangover,” but it totally works thanks to one of the most talented ensembles of the year.

Horrible Bosses
Horrible Bosses
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

In a clever set-up, the title characters in “Horrible Bosses” all come from distinctly different worlds of awful. They’re not all white collar pricks or abusive jerks. The first and most central of the horrible bosses hangs on the back of Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), a man who has spent years as a workaholic hoping for the big, promised promotion. His boss, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), gives him a hard time for showing up at two minutes past 6AM and for asking for time off to say goodbye to his ‘Gam-Gam’ before she dies. He has given his life to Harken’s company and is getting nothing but abuse in return.

Similarly screwed is Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis of “Saturday Night Live”), a man who loves his job and the patriarch (Donald Sutherland) who runs it but finds himself in a nightmare when the head of the company dies and leaves it to his worthless cokehead son Bobby (Colin Farrell). The obnoxious jerk not only wants to fire the handicapped man at work because he’s creepy but is planning to reverse all the environmental progress made by his dad. Finally, the sweet Dale Arbus (Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) has become the victim of intense sexual harassment on the part of Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). If he doesn’t sleep with her, she’s going to ruin his life.

Nick, Kurt, and Dale have a drunken evening in which they come up with a plan to kill the people ruining their lives. They first turn to Craigslist, eventually stumbling upon the services of one Motherf**ker Jones (Jamie Foxx) and the wacky hijinks ensue from there. “Horrible Bosses” progresses in unpredictable ways as it builds toward a climax that includes infidelity, drugs, murder, a car chase, and even a toothbrush shoved where the sun don’t shine. It’s a goofy piece of black humor that can somehow wedge in references to men peeing on other men and “Snow Falling on Cedars.” It’s not a consistent script – some of the jokes and set pieces fall flatter than others – but it contains enough peaks to forgive the valleys.

Horrible Bosses
Horrible Bosses
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The main credit for those peaks falls at the feet of the talented cast. The two Oscar winners (Spacey & Foxx) haven’t been this entertaining in years, Aniston doesn’t hold back from a role that will make her older fans cringe (I actually heard an audible gasp at my screening after her first particularly raunchy line), and even minor roles are filled out well by actors like Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”), Julie Bowen (“Modern Family”), and a movie-ending cameo from a true comedy legend. Everyone fits each role so well that the casting director deserves some sort of award.

But this movie belongs to Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day, three very talented comedians who absolutely deliver from minute one through the inevitable gag reel that plays during the credits. In particular, Day is perfectly cast, bringing that balance of naivete and exuberance that he’s honed on the great “Philadelphia” to the big screen. All three guys work in the same way that audiences fell in love with the trio at the heart of “The Hangover.” One hopes they will be turned into as big stars as Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis. They deserve it.

To be fair, “Horrible Bosses” could have been better. I wish it had a more consistent rhythm and that the final act built a bit more intensely to something truly memorable. Great comedies keep peaking with bigger and bigger laughs while good ones like “Horrible Bosses” just provide decent ones throughout. Still, considering the sad state of the genre, let’s not get too down on this hard worker just because it falls just short of greatness.

”Horrible Bosses” stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, and Kevin Spacey. It was written by Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein and directed by Seth Gordon. It is rated R and opens on July 8th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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