Review: Seth Gordon's 'Horrible Bosses' Has About a 70% Work Ethic
by Jeremy Kirk
July 8, 2011
The horrible boss. The universal, cinematic constant you can always be sure is going to rear its ugly head. The idea of the awful boss who puts a film's protagonist against the ropes at every turn is really nothing new. Neither is the idea of said protagonist turning the tables and fighting back, violently at times as seen in the hidden gem Swimming With Sharks. So, the premise of Horrible Bosses, the new comedy directed by Seth Gordon, is no revelation of narrative structuring. Neither is it a groundbreaking work of comedy. The jokes hit, maybe not as hard or as often as you might want, but when all is said and done, there's an enjoyable time to be had watching the shenanigans and left turns taken in Horrible Bosses. Just expect your side to be fully intact when the credits roll.
Instead of one horrible boss, instead of one protagonist who decides to stomp rather than tiptoe on eggshells, Horrible Bosses has three of each. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day play the three employees, friends of each other who spend their evenings drowning their work-place sorrows in mugs of beer. Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston are the "boss" counterpart to each, each delivering a unique form of work environment torture for our heroes. One night, after a particularly beer-soaked session of brain-storming, the three tyrannized friends hatch a scheme. They decide the world would be better without their bosses, and plans are set in motion to take each boss out in the ultimate sense of the phrase.
For the most part, the cast in Horrible Bosses works well. There's a natural chemistry between Sudeikis and Day, each one throwing out their own character eccentricities. Sudeikis's character is a womanizing, would-be leader, but he's likable enough in the role. And sure, Charlie Day seems to be reprising his role from "It's Always Sunny", but to hear his voice get higher and higher pitched as a situation intensifies is downright hysterical. It's when Day's character inadvertently ends up in a cocaine high that the real break-neck pace of his delivery can present itself.
Spacey, Farrell, and Aniston are equally great. Spacey could play the overbearing, hate-filled, egotistical boss in his sleep, but he's doing anything but going through the motions here. Farrell is basically unrecognizable under a shredded mop of thin hair and behind crass dialogue which he belches out. If anything is amiss with Farrell's character it's the fact that he simply isn't in the film enough. Aniston plays a lewd D.D.S. to Day's dental assistant. She essentially doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "sexual harassment", and Day's character, soon to be married, find's it all extremely inappropriate. It's probably the best worker/employer relationship in the movie, most of that thanks in large part to each actor's performance.
An outside party, Jamie Foxx, shows up as a "murdering consultant" for the three employees. As with Farrell's character, he's funny every time he's on screen, but you can't help but wonder if there couldn't have been more for him to do here. Organically, that is. When his character does pop up again late in the film, it feels shoe-horned, as if they felt it necessary to have him in there even though his presence is inessential and contrived.
This is representative of the bigger problem Horrible Bosses runs into. Not much about the film feels organic. Some of the jokes hit harder than others. There's an ongoing joke regarding Spacey's cat that feels on target every time it comes up. But the choreography to a lot of the jokes here are noticeable, as if you can see their outline forming before they actually reveal themselves. More of the out-of-left-field brand of humor would have been welcome. At one point Day's character is seen watching a movie. It's The Notebook, a funny choice had it not been so patent. As it is, the jokes and the consistency of Horrible Bosses' humor all work, but there's an obvious way they could have worked even better.
That same goes for the narrative. It isn't difficult to deduce about halfway through how much of the film's dilemma's are going to work themselves out. Things are setup in the most obvious of ways so that they can only play out one way, and, aside from a few eleventh hour hiccups, they play out exactly as we expect them to. It's all done through happenstance, too, no real conscious maneuvering from the main characters.
Which brings us to Jason Bateman, the lead of the film, the straight-laced every-man who gets roped into a scheme with his friends and awkwardly tries to find his way to the door of a darkened room. Sound familiar? Probably. That's because this seems to be the same role Bateman plays in every comedy he appears in these days. There's nothing new about his character, and, honestly, there's not much likable about him either. We just know he's the lead due to his name being credited first. Outside of that, there's isn't anything about this character or Bateman's performance that is easy to connect with.
But plot contrivances, obviously framed jokes, and a banal lead aside - that all sounds more damning than it's intended to be - Horrible Bosses is a solidly funny film, a 3/4 baked souffle that tastes just fine but could have stood to be a bit more done. The performances filling the three bosses and Charlie Day are the real stand-outs with Day practically stealing the show at every turn. Horrible Bosses might not be the freshest or most riotous of comedies out there, but it gets the job done.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10