A film review by Craig J. Koban July 12, 2011


2011, R, 98 mins.


Nick Hendricks: Jason Bateman / Dave Harken: Kevin Spacey / Dr. Julia Harris: Jennifer Aniston / Kurt Buckman: Jason Sudeikis / Bobby Pellitt: Colin Farrell / Jack Pellitt: Donald Sutherland / Jones: Jamie Foxx / Dale Arbus: Charlie Day / Rhonda Harken: Julie Bowen / Lou Sherman: Bob Newhart

Directed by Seth Gordon / Written by Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley.

HORRIBLE BOSSES is the ultimate middle-upper working class wish fulfillment revenge fantasy.  

It’s essentially a love ballad to all of those in the audience that have had an odious, amoral, imbecilic, and verbally and physically abusive (but not perhaps all in that order) supervisor that we just wished would drop dead.  Who among all of us have not wanted to kill our bosses…in their own vengeance-fuelled fantasies?  Well, HORRIBLE BOSSES has a trio of hapless, down-on-their luck schlubs that, during a night out drinking, decide that they are going to turn their thoughts into a reality and conspire to murder their respective employers.

The small scale miracle of HORRIBLE BOSSES is that, despite the fact that its downtrodden “heroes” all plan to commit murder, we nonetheless grow to like them and root them on to ultimate victory.  This is assisted greatly by the film's fantastically assembled cast playing the three buddies, who all display a nice, easy-going chemistry and a tangible level of camaraderie.  They are also aided by an equally fine, if not a bit more compelling, supporting cast (more on them in a bit) that are more than game for making the vile and venomous bosses so easily detestable that death may be an easy way out for them.   

The aforementioned trio of depressed, overworked, and mistreated workers are Nick (Jason Batman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and “registered sex offender” Dale (Charlie Day), the latter trait being levied against the poor ol’ sap not because he is a public deviant, but more by sheer accident because of an ill-timed bit of private parts exposure when he thought he was all alone.  Anyways, these guys have more than their fair share of reasons to loathe their bosses. 

Nick, for example, is an ambitious up and comer at his financial firm that is run with a dictatorial and megalomaniacal zeal by Dave (Kevin Spacey), who seems to take great relish in sabotaging any attempts Nick has for company advancement.  When he is not making Nick work through traumatic family events (he missed his grandmother's death), Dave is such an unmitigated creep for how he even manages to hold an early morning meeting to announce that he has given a very lucrative new job position to…himself, and one that Nick desperately wanted.  Worse yet, Dave also has some decidedly...shall I say...bloodthirsty tendencies.

Similarly, Kurt has workplace issues as well: He greatly enjoys being employed at an industrial company for Jack (the oddly cast Donald Sutherland, in a truly nothing role) who treats Kurt like the son that he never had, mostly because he can’t stand his real offspring, a belligerent, hot headed, foul mouthed, and cocaine addicted SOB named Bobby (Colin Farrell, pulling a full-on Tom Cruise, TROPIC THUNDER performance trick by donning a bad-comb-over hair piece as well as facial and body prosthetics).  Kurt seems next in line to the office's chief management position, that is until Jack suddenly dies of a heart attack.  This leaves Bobby in charge of the company and his first order of business is to force Kurt to fire anyone that is overweight (“I want you to trim the fat!”) as well as the office’s lone wheelchair prone employee (“I want you to fire Professor Xavier over there”).  When not barking orders at Kurt, Bobby takes drugs and fornicates with whores in his highly-visible-to-everyone office. 

Dale, however, arguably has the worst boss of the bunch: he works as an assistant to Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S. (Jennifer Aniston), who, despite her uber hotness, is a textbook sex-obsessed lunatic.  When she is not wishing to have sex with her Novocain-induced patients, she is constantly conspiring to have Dale perform all sorts of lewd acts on her.  Dale is about to be happily married to his sweetheart (Lindsay Sloane), and his faithfulness to her is never once in question, but when Julia reveals some damaging and incriminating photo evidence on her iPad of her miming intercourse with a drugged out Dale (during which he thought he was getting routine oral surgery), he realizes that his work situation has gone from bad to worse. 

Nick, Kurt, and Dale all realize that enough is enough and decide to kill their bosses, but they have a few road blocks along the way (especially when they hire a man via the Internet that claims to be a “wet work” specialist, which Dale mistakes as a code phrase for hired killer; the man is actually a male prostitute that urinates on men for money).  After that horrible miscalculation, the boys decide to go to the worst bar in town where they meet…ahem…”Motherfucker” Jones (it is explained how he got that name) played by Jamie Fox, who asks for money up front to give them advice on how to commit their dirty deeds.  Using cinematic references like THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (which the clueless Dale mixes up at one point), the boys hatch a plan to rid the world of their bosses.  Predictably, everything possibly wrong that could happen to these nice guys-turned killers…does. 

Again, it’s the lead actors that make this fairly routine material fly (I mean, really, the script has a paper thin “let’s kill our hateful bosses” premise; not too terribly original).  Bateman, as he has demonstrated countless times, shows that he is arguably one of the most skillfully dry-deadpan comic actors working today and Sudeikis is equally in decent form playing what otherwise is his signature and perfunctory movie role: a smooth-talking, skirt-chasing and self-aggrandizing man child.  Charlie Day is a comic actor that is slowly wearing on me:  I have found him to be almost too histrionic in past films to the point of being distracting.  Here, though, I think his overt zaniness works effectively as a foil to Bateman’s underplayed drollness.  Dale also earns some of the film's best laughs, especially during a scene where he accidentally overdoes on some of Bobby’s cocaine or a later scene where he sings The Ting Tings’ THAT’S NOT MY NAME while in a drug induced frenzy. 

The performers playing the bosses are a scream as well in their take-no-prisoners, scenery chewing roles:  Spacey is in pure and refined SWIMMING WITH SHARKS mode here as his control freak-of-nature boss to Nick.  Spacey perhaps has the best, steely-eye stare of the movies and is a relishing sight to behold when he plays an all-out workplace sadist; it’s not a stretch for the actor, but he does it better than just about anyone.  Then there is Farrell, who despite being lamentably underused throughout the film, is still loveably hateful as his balding, overweight, overbearing, over-the-top, and politically incorrect buffoon.  Then there is Aniston, who for once strays away from her nice and sunny girl-next-door romcom image and goes for broke playing one of her creepiest, most conniving, and most unscrupulous personas of her career as she parades around nearly topless, engaging in pornographic sex acts with food, and stops at nothing to get Dale to give her what she really wants.  I will say this: Aniston has never been more hateful and, oddly enough, sinfully sexy in a film.  However, having said that, she also reveals a troubling gender double standard present in the film.  Just consider – would the laughs be as riotous and aplenty if, say, the gender roles were reversed and the boss was a man sexually harassing a female assistant?  Probably not. 

HORRIBLE BOSSES does have other issues, like a conclusion that is way too convenient and contrived, which falls to push the darker edge of the material that preceded it.  Also, there are times when the film can’t decide if it wants to be a loose farce or a scathing social black comedy with a sour under bite (a more daring approach would have been to push the material to darker territory).  There are also instances when HORRIBLE BOSSES seems to push its unapologetic, R-rated raunch a bit too desperately to get chuckles.  Yet, the sum of the good parts of this inconsistent whole were enough for me to enjoy this cheerfully unhinged, wickedly nasty, and delightfully outrageous revenge caper.  It also marks a fine return to form for director Seth Gordon, who made one of my favourite documentaries of the last few years with his debut effort, THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS only to stall his career a bit with his first feature length fiction film, FOUR CHRISTMASES.  I did not laugh as much during HORRIBLE BOSSES as I did with this year's CEDAR RAPIDS or HALL PASS, but it’s still one of the more coarsely and twisted funny efforts of the year thus far.

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