|Horrible, but pretty funny
Horrible Bosses has been called nothing but a TV sit-com and a sub-Apatow comedy. Its opening situations -- three guys who're best buddies all have employers they can't endure -- are so crudely, grossly overstated you may want to walk out in the first quarter of an hour. But then you stay and you laugh. This movie makes the best of a bad situation. Three bad situations, actually. Horrible Bosses is crude, but funny. The comedy isn't the greatest, but the mayhem is liberating and fun.
The cast, which has some depth to it, is one big reason why this movie works. The three protagonists, though not hard to distinguish, seem ordinary -- Jason Bateman as Nick, the oh-so-cooperative manager whose boss is a haughty exploiter; Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), who inherits an insufferable coke-head son when his kindly employer suddenly dies; Dale (Charlie Day), the dental assistant whose sex-obsessed female boss constantly tries to entrap and "rape" him at the workplace. Jason Bateman is the quintessentially ordinary actor, the everyman whose central role here helps everyday people identify with this humorous treatment of a common issue: the workplace where superiors make you miserable. The depth comes through, though, in the more recognizable supporting cast -- which includes Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Donald Sutherland, and Kevin Spacey. These actors add class to the enterprise. So does Colin Farrell as the coke-head son, so well disguised by a makeover including a comb-over and goatee, you may not recognize him till he's identified in the final credits. Tllhose come laced with out-takes to keep the audience from popping up to leave once the movie's over. If this is a sit-com, it's certainly a star-studded one.
Kevin Spacey and Jason Bateman are a marriage made in heaven. Spacey is a master of disdainful, haughty meanness, and he rises to a fine level of self caricature here. His Harken is deliciously repugnant. Bateman is totally Bateman as the people-pleaser employee who lets his boss walk all over him for a promotion he's never getting. Jennifer Anniston humiliates herself (but isn't that what clowns do? doesn't Colin Farrell do it too?) as the salacious dentist who sexually harasses her squeaky chipmunk-voiced assistant, doing nasty, sexual things in front of or even on top of drugged patients. This isn't my idea of funny, but it gets across its point: Dale's situation is absurd, and also a terrible trap he wants to escape from.
These three miserable employees are victims of a bad economy. They can't possibly quit their jobs, and Dale for some reason was convicted as a sex offender though all he did was relieve himself at night in a schoolyard (the three writers, Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan M. Goldstein, can be off-the-wall sometimes). Nick has been working from before daybreak to after dark at the office to please the abusive Mr. Harken (Spacey), then learns Harken has decided to simply add the job Nick was to be promoted to to his own responsibilities. Kurt, who loves the ladies, is close to his boss Jack Pellit (Sutherland) and might have inherited his position, except that Jack's sudden death puts the coke-head son Bobby in charge. Dale is is a proper young man (so much as anybody is proper in this foul-mouthed movie) who's engaged to be married, but his female dentist boss (Anniston) continually threatens to entrap him sexually. Complaining to each other repeatedly at a bar, the three best pals agree they'd all be much happier with their bosses dead. We've already seen why.
The movie is over-the-top, but it works because it sets thing up so the idea of killing their bosses isn't any crazier than the work situations Kurt, Nick, and Dale are in. And their first idea is to hire a hit man. This is where a colorfully disguised Jamie Foxx comes in. He's a "gangsta" the guys find at a dive bar whose cred is established by serious jail time. They assume that since they've dropped hints and he's responded, he is actually a hit man. Later they find out how harmless the crime was. Ever see Snow Falling on Cedars? Well, this scheme doesn't work so they turn to another movie: how about doing the Strangers on a Train crisscross thing? Not quite clear how the murders get divided up with three people. Anyway, this leads to the guys' spying on each othes' intended victims, and that leads to serious ineptitude and mayhem. A modicum of common decency bars me from telling more.
The Miami Herald critic considers this movie is "Slow-witted, clumsy and almost pathologically reliant on crude name-calling for laughs," and says it "represents the lowest end of the comedy spectrum." The low-end crack is no doubt true, if you're speaking of the language, which is down and dirty. But that's not all there is because this movie, which you may be disgusted at yourself for enjoying, has speed, rhythm, and unity. Its taste is dubious and its plot is absurd but its energy never flags. And all its action and comedy bits serve the story. Try watching it with a Saturday night audience. It has some good laughs, and in between them, it has some tasty performances.
Horrible Bosses was released July 8, 2011 in the US. July 22 in the UK.
Copyright © by Chris Knipp
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