Horrible Bosses

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We shouldn’t be asking why we have yet another movie about people who hate their bosses. This is one of the most universal themes in all of humanity. Everyone who’s ever had a job has disliked an employer at some point. The real question is why there aren’t MORE movies about it.

But until Hollywood gets on the ball and starts addressing this issue more regularly, we can occupy ourselves with “Horrible Bosses,” a jubilant, vulgar, and extremely funny farce about three men who set out to kill their respective employers. Written by Michael Markowitz, rewritten by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (they’re all TV scribes), and directed by Seth Gordon (“Four Christmases”), the comedy is dark and silly, with no one learning any lessons and only the pre-defined bad guys suffering any real consequences. In essence, the movie is set in Farceland, not reality. So don’t try this at home.

The men, friends since high school, are played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis (“SNL”), and Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). If you’re familiar with these guys’ work, you’ll notice they play to their strengths. Bateman is Nick, a sensible and deadpan financial adviser whose boss, Harken (Kevin Spacey), is a cruel taskmaster. Sudeikis is Kurt, a fun-loving adult (he’s an accountant) with a strong undercurrent of frat boy about him (he’s a horndog), whose new supervisor, Bobby (Colin Farrell), is a malignant cocaine addict. Day’s character, Dale the dental assistant, is high-strung and moronic. He works for a sultry D.D.S. (Jennifer Aniston) who constantly, graphically, and unambiguously sexually harasses him all day, every day.

It is clear that Harken and Bobby are evil — not misunderstood, not gruff with hearts of gold, but genuinely evil. They say and do things that make them worthy of death, at least in broad, dark-comedy terms. Dr. Julia, on the other hand, isn’t malicious in her efforts to have sex with Dale. (Kurt and Nick have a hard time even accepting that Dale’s problem is even a serious problem.) But Dale is engaged to a nice girl (Lindsay Sloane) and is eager to be a devoted, monogamous husband.

While commiserating over beers one night, Nick, Kurt, and Dale come to the conclusion that if they hired a hitman to bump off their bosses, well, that would be better for them, and for the world in general. Nick, the rational one — the Jason Bateman one — comes to his senses the next day, of course … just in time for Harken to reach new depths of despicableness and make Nick change his mind back again.

That’s how the film operates: simply and clean, nakedly refusing to make any effort to convince us that three normal guys would actually set out to assassinate their bosses. How blithely oversimplified is the story? When the guys face the obvious, premise-ruining question of why they don’t just quit their jobs, they immediately — and I mean right that minute — run into an old classmate who’s unemployed and desperate. That gives them all the answer they need: the job market is bad; ergo, the only option is to remain employed and kill their bosses. The matter is settled, let’s move on.

So yes, from a structural standpoint, this is barely even a story. It’s more like a series of comedy sketches — or like an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” in which Charlie Day plays essentially the same unhinged imbecile character he does here. Day, Sudeikis, and Bateman are a dream team of comic actors. They cover the spectrum of styles (Day all frenetic, Bateman all buttoned-down, Sudeikis somewhere in between), and each has killer timing. The script gives them plenty of funny things to say, but their delivery can turn even so-so lines into huge laughs. The same screenplay shot by the same director but with three different actors could easily have been only half as funny.

The supporting cast is outrageously good, too. Farrell and Aniston give devastatingly original performances as characters who are unlike anyone they’ve played before. Spacey is on somewhat more familiar ground as a mean weasel, but he gets to go to new, nutty places with it. There’s also Jamie Foxx as a gun-for-hire with the last name Jones, first name unprintable, plus Ioan Gruffudd as a professional that Dale finds on Craigslist.

The humor is bawdy, for sure. With Dr. Julia, that’s the whole point: the more straight-up nasty she is, the more effective the character is. Everyone else’s raunchiness is less aggressive and more cheerful, and generally funny enough to justify itself. The guys (or perhaps I should say the screenwriters) are fixated on butt-related matters, but they still come across as white-collar professionals rather than Judd Apatow slackers. (Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, and Jonah Hill: there’s a good example of three very funny actors who would have been completely wrong for this movie.)

Things spiral deliriously out of control as the guys’ plan falls apart (it wasn’t formulated very well to begin with), and Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis have an easy rapport that keeps the comic energy up even when the story goes off into weird directions. This should be therapeutic for anyone who’s ever hated a boss. Which, as I said, is pretty much everyone.

[Reprinted from Film.com.]

B+ (1 hr., 40 min.; R, pervasive harsh profanity, abundant graphic vulgar dialogue and sexual innuendo.)

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