Sunday, December 18, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx
Running Time: 98 min.
Rating: R

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

There's a great premise powering the laughs in Horrible Bosses and the best news is that the movie mostly delivers on it. But the main reason to see it are for the wildly entertaining performances of the three stars playing those bosses. Two of them have never played parts even closely resembling the ones they do here while the third may as well be considered an expert at it by now. Once you get past that the plot becomes kind of disjointed, but it's to director Seth Gordon's credit that he doesn't hold back or wimp out like so many other interchangeable R-rated comedies released each summer. At least it feels like a dark comedy and holds firm in that approach throughout.  If it's true that the most effective kind of comedy comes out of the absurdity that is everyday life than this already has a leg up since it's likely many will feel it strikes a comical nerve even before the opening credits start rolling.  

Office Space meets Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (or Throw Mama From The Train as one character hilariously refers to it as) when three longtime friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudekeis) plot to murder their bosses. While all three have wildly different superiors, Nick easily has it the worst. His boss at the financial firm is Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) who cruelly dangles the carrot of an unattainable promotion in front of his face while emotionally abusing him. Whether he's berating him for being exactly two minutes late or tricking him into drinking liquor on the job, Nick's had about about all he can take. Dale, who's dream in life has always been to become a husband works as a dental assistant to Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), who sexually harasses him all day and threatens to tell his finacee they slept together unless, of course, he actually sleeps with her. Kurt is an accountant in a dream job until his beloved boss (Donald Sutherland) suddenly dies and the company is entrusted to his cokehead son Bobby (Colin Farrell). After consulting a hitman (played by Jamie Foxx) he suggests they kill each others bosses making the deaths appear to be accidents. Things don't go nearly as well as planned.

The screenplay faces a bit of a problem once all the cards are on the table and we meet the bosses and the convoluted murder scheme gets under way. Spacey, Aniston and Farrell are so entertaining and their antics so outrageously over-the-top we almost don't want to see them killed since it'll spell the end of their screen time. The movie cleverly works its way around this problem and as complicated as the entire plot gets the one thing that can't be said is that it's predictable. It's difficult joining three different sub-plots, cross-cutting between them and making sure each gets equal attention but for the most part it's successful. Spacey's performance as the tyrannical Harken is phenomenal because he's smart enough to know to go at it completely straight and deadly serious as if this were no less dramatic a part than the similarly abusive boss he played in 1995's Swimming With Sharks. 

Aniston has never been better in a comedy than here, completely letting loose as this vulgar, oversexed maneater, while seemingly relishing the chance to finally play a role that betrays her bland, cook-cutter image. It's a much needed change of pace and the biggest surprise is how comfortable she appears to be doing it. And kudos to the writers for openly acknowledging Dale's situation is awesome rather than "horrible," with his friends understandably wanting to trade places with him. Usually it's Jason Bateman who makes every comedy he's in better (and he still does as Spacey's hapless victim), but It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day who gives the film's best comedic performance, an impressive feat considering the talent of his co-stars. With a squeeky voice and a horrified expression, everytime Aniston disrobes or comes on to him Day makes you believe this is a truly horrible experience for naive, loyal, man-child Dale. Earning huge laughs with every line, Day proves he's more than capable of headlining a comedy on its own if it comes to that at some point, and it probably will. Unrecognizable with a beard, comb-over and pot-belly, the biggest complaint you can make about Colin Farrell and his sleazebag character is that we don't get to see nearly enough of him. A scene in which forces Sudekeis to choose between firing two employees is a real keeper.

As funny as many scenes are, it could have been even better constructed. The plot does start to fly off the rails once the scheme gets going and it's hard not to think a more solid result could have come out of a set-up this clever. But at least it doesn't hold back or wimp out in a year where it seems nearly every comedy, good and bad, have. The teacher in Bad Teacher really wasn't all that bad. The competing Bridesmaids in Bridesmaids become best friends. So on and so forth. All this has signaled the mainstream "wussifying" of American comedy, reinforcing the belief that audiences need to be sent home with a positive, life-affirming message in order for the movie to make money. That might be okay for a drama, but it's more problematic for a raunchy comedy. I just want to laugh. That's it. The tone here is spot on. Upbeat, but still retaining a spirit of anarchy. Horrible Bosses wisely doesn't shy away from depicting its title characters as unredeemable and one-dimensional, which is precisely why it works.

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