Horrible Bosses (United States, 2011)

July 09, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Horrible Bosses Poster

Sometimes, it's all about the cast. That comment isn't meant to disparage the scriptwriting of Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein, who offer their share of amusing situations and snappy one-liners, or the direction of Seth Gordon, which is crisp. But for something like Horrible Bosses to sparkle, the actors have to shine... and shine they do. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis are funny and sympathetic as the underappreciated workers turned inept criminals. Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell bare their teeth (and, in Aniston's case, a bit more) as the title characters. And, lurking in the background, Jamie Foxx plays a hit man with the unlikely moniker of Motherfucker Jones. With a name like that, you know this isn't going to be PG-13.

Horrible Bosses falls into the same general category of raunchy comedies as Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, and The Hangover Part 2. It's the best of the bunch, although it is the least interested in pushing boundaries. Merely being lewd and profane is good enough. Horrible Bosses is interested in telling a story and giving the actors the latitude to do some fun stuff with their characters, while playing to their strengths. Kevin Spacey channels the best of his rouges' gallery of sadists and psychopaths. Colin Farrell, once a heartthrob, allows the makeup artist to turn him balding and ugly (not unlike Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder). And Jennifer Aniston emerges from the romantic comedy cocoon in which she has recently been entombed to dazzle with unfettered profanity and near-toplessness. Hearing her purr about her "pussy" rivals the shock hilarity of Betty White dropping the f-bomb. Has Aniston ever been this sexy?

The story focuses on three everyday schlubs: office workers Nick (Bateman) and Kurt (Sudeikis) and dental assistant Dale (Day). Nick's dictatorial boss, Dave (Spacey), uses the possibility of a promotion to compel Nick to work long hours and eat shit, then yanks away the carrot at the last moment. Kurt has a dream job until his beloved employer (Donald Sutherland) dies and his nasty, cokehead son, Bobby (Farrell), takes over. Meanwhile, Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S. (Aniston), is more interested in a different part of Dale's anatomy than his mouth. She's never heard of sexual harassment and, if she did, she'd be all in favor of it.

Eventually, Nick, Kurt, and Dale come to an inescapable conclusion: the bosses must die. Being squeamish, they opt to try to hire a hit man, but, after a misfire with an Internet candidate (played by Mr. Fantastic, Ioan Gruffudd) who doesn't have the same understanding of classified ad "code words" as Dale, they take a more hands-on approach. At the worst bar in town, they meet Motherfucker Jones and, for a tidy $5000, he offers to be their "murder consultant." His sage advice: use a Strangers on a Train/Throw Momma from the Train template for the killings. Hey, if it's good enough for Hitchcock and DeVito, who's to argue with it? As the intrepid trio gets to work, they challenge the participants of Big Deal on Madonna Street and The Ladykillers for Hall of Fame criminal bumbling.

The ending of Horrible Bosses is weak, but that's often the case with dark-ish comedies that want a sunny wrap-up. Still, the production is so fun up to that point that it's easy to forgive the last act lapse. Horrible Bosses never reaches the level of crude mastery achieved by The Hangover, but it echoes the earlier comedy blockbuster by invoking male bonding among three mismatched leads and having one of them be more than a little off-kilter (although Charlie Day's physical appearance is considerably more tame than that of Zach Galifianakis). The movie is aptly named for, although this may ultimately be the story of the revenge of the underlings, the characters leaving the most lasting impact will be the bosses.

Horrible Bosses (United States, 2011)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2011-07-08
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Violence, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1