Review: ‘Horrible Bosses’

The Projector

1. "Horrible Bosses" considers itself a black comedy, but the best sign that it's not even close to willing to commit to its dark premise is that it ends with wacky credit bloopers. I'm pretty sure if you end your movie with wacky credit bloopers, you didn't just make a dark comedy. The film pulls together a truly impressive cast, actors who never wimp out, who never fail to follow their twisted characters to their logical conclusion, but the film sort of wastes them, plugging them in an arbitrary plot that zigs and zags with little internal logic. The actors are more invested in the film and its characters than the filmmakers are, and you find yourself cheering for the actors to transcend their material than you find yourself caring about the characters. Put it this way: When this cast read this script initially and decided to be a part ... I bet they never imagined it'd be the type of movie with wacky credit bloopers.

2. The film's concept is simple, timely and potentially a goldmine: Three frustrated white-collar white men (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day) find themselves stuck working for those eponymous horrible bosses, but they can't quit because of the evaporating job market and because, well, they like all their white-collar white-men toys like OnStar navigation, Wii tennis and car seats that recline all the way back. (The film has some fun with a laid-off Lehman Brothers friend of the trio who finds himself forced to perform sexual favors for income.) So, with a blase impassivity that film initially treats as a joke but eventually just lazily accepts, the friends decide to murder their uniquely awful bosses, meeting with a "murder consultant" (Jamie Foxx, who looks bored) and deciding to off each other's bosses to keep their alibis straight, "Strangers On A Train" style. This is a fun idea, but the movie never does anything with it: These guys are all just goof-offs, really, and not once do we consider any of them intelligent enough, immoral enough or even motivated enough not only to go through with their plot, but even to follow up talking about it.

3. Much of the fun in the movie is meant to reside in the bosses, of course, and with talents like Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell giving free rein to go nuts, the movie should take off when they're on screen. Alas, their results are mixed. Farrell is without question the funniest, a balding, potbellied cocaine addict who boasts of his blue belt in karate and gets freaked out by people in wheelchairs. Farrell, who is on quite a run since the "Miami Vice" disaster, is downright giddy at the chance to cut loose; he's a scream every minute he's on screen. Unfortunately, he exits the movie halfway through, and we miss him the rest of the time. (His, unsurprisingly, are the funniest outtakes; he came to play.) Spacey has played a variation on this smug sadist before, so he has less room to run, particularly because he's the one "boss" who is tied to the overarching plot, such as it is. This is not one of those Kevin Spacey jerks with a secret in his past: He's just a jerk who turns into a psychopath precisely when the film needs him to. And, oh, yes, Jennifer Aniston. As encouraging as it is to see Aniston -- a naturally funny but notoriously buttoned-up actress -- letting her freak flag fly as a raging nymphomaniac dentist who will fire her assistant (Bell) if he doesn't sleep with her, the role, quite simply, makes no sense. It's not as if Aniston's obsession is just with Bell: The movie makes it clear that she will have sex with anyone, at any time, for any reason. (Why? Because she's a whore! Ho ho!) So the part is simply meant to be some cretin frat guy's spin on the leering sexual harassing male boss, a "look, see, guys, we wouldn't mind being sexual harassed, right? Who's with me?" The film hasn't thought about Aniston's character one step past "she just wants to have sex all the time," and no matter how hard Aniston tries, the role's inherent limitations can't help but make her look silly, desperate and, all told, sort of offensive. It's not necessarily her fault, but hey, she signed on for the part. And she does look great, which might have been the point in the first place.

4. The three men at the center of the film have an engaging chemistry; they're believable as three white-boy gadget dorks who have been lifelong friends but never particularly had the stakes in their lives be all that high. Day is fun on "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," but he veers dangerously close to being grating here; his high-pitched, rat-a-tat cadence is meant to give him the showy Galifianakis-ian third wheel role, but instead he's only tolerable because of how he bounces off Bateman and Sudeikis, both of whom are solid spit-take straight men. But their murder plot is more gimmicky than anything else; these guys don't have any shading whatsoever, let alone some secret dark side. You can't help but wonder how much more fun the film would have been if they'd have really run with the idea of these generally amoral, self-satisfied discovering they're capable of murder. That would made for a truly dark comedy, rather than a sitcom that keeps changing the rules.

5. "Horrible Bosses" still has its fair share of laughs, including an inspired cameo by Ioan Gruffudd as a character that'll forever be known as "Wetwork Man." (I love the idea that a man with his job would show up for work in a tuxedo.) But it never rises to the levels of what I suspect were its initial intentions: Three angry white guys deciding they've had enough already, boiling into fatal rage and realizing that, after all, they're too fat and happy to even hang onto that rage. Instead, "Horrible Bosses" keeps taking the easy way out, the easy joke, the easy plot turn, the easy broad characters. This is an outstanding idea for a movie that only sporadically works, settling instead for "man inserts another man's toothbrush into his anus" jokes. Not that there's anything wrong with those jokes. (Not at all.) But with this cast, and this concept, it's just a shame that "Horrible Bosses" pulls up just when it should be taking off.

Grade: C+