(This review was originally published on July 9, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
If Seth Gordon were a less competent director, I might be tempted to make a few cheap and obvious critical references to the title of his newest film “Horrible Bosses”, though I would not be proud of myself for it. Fortunately, his effort here is not quite ripe enough for clever(or not so clever) puns, and is really just another satisfactory entry in the continuing resurrection of the adult comedy genre.
Scripted by TV writers Michael Markowitz, Jonathan Goldstein and actor John Francis Daley(who also has a small role in the film), the strong points of “Horrible Bosses” surely must have been evident even prior to its conversion to celluloid, specifically its heavy- hitting cast. Three intensely abusive office superiors, played with varying degrees of ferocity by Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey, have driven their most competent employees(Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day and Jason Bateman respectively)to come up with an extreme and permanent solution for the workplace woes: murder.
Nick(Bateman), whose typical day introduces us to abrasive, soul-sucking CEO Mr. Harken(Spacey), is forced to partake of scotch at 8:00 AM and then accused of having a drinking problem, denied a much anticipated promotion and ridiculed for the nickname he has for his dead grandmother who, incidentally, he missed on her deathbed because he was forced to stay late in the office. Dale(Day, playing against his “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” type), a straight-laced dental assistant, finds that his recent engagement to Stacy might be in jeopardy because of advances from his sexually psychotic superior (Aniston) who molests her patients while they’re under anesthesia and speaks more explicitly than a disgruntled porn star. Kurt(Sudeikis), is tormented by Bobby Pellit(Farrell), a cocaine addled half-wit who has recently inherited the reigns to his deceased father’s company and promptly initiates the demise of the business through misappropriating funds and various code violations.
After Nick, Dale and Kurt run into a downtrodden acquaintance who’s recently been laid off and has resorted to some pretty unsavory means of paying the bills, they realize that they can’t quit their jobs in this tough economy, and the conspiring begins. Misguided by an overpaid and self-proclaimed ‘murder consultant’(Jamie Foxx), the gang’s plan is simply to ‘retire’ each other’s bosses in a fashion that can’t be traced back to the corresponding employee.
“Horrible Bosses” never gains much creative altitude, perhaps because the talent rich cast sets the bar unrealistically high, but the film never crashes either. Seth Gordon, whose resume is also heavy on television credits(“The Office”, “Modern Family”, “Parks and Recreation”) and includes 2008′s “Four Christmases”, has managed to lens a streamlined and relatively compact movie that has a few great laughs enveloped in a shroud of dull familiarity. Bateman, as always, delivers his one-of-a-kind blend of arid humor, comic malaise and masked desperation that has me constantly checking on updates for the “Arrested Development” release(2013?). Spacey, master of the eloquent insult, whose aforementioned confidence crushing tendencies were more than amply evidenced in the much darker “Swimming With Sharks”, plays off of Bateman in a more controlled arena that almost hints at some of his more aggressive moments from “The Ref”. The dynamic between Charlie Day and Jennifer Aniston, however, plays like a forced marriage of “The Graduate” and “Blue Velvet”, as he seems to be a magnet for her strangely focused nymphomania in a series of events that would have you believe she couldn’t get any real action outside the office. Sudeikis, whose pleasant disposition is a fine contrast to the woefully underused Colin Farrell, is likable and funny but never really ventures far enough outside his comfort zone to satisfy the womanizing aspect written into his character. Farrell, on the other hand, should have been given five minutes of someone else’s screen time to fill out a role that would have been comic genius if only played to its potential.
As a group, the three suffering subordinates mesh well enough to save the film from sagging into sub-mediocre territory, even though Charlie Day’s frantic caterwauling becomes almost as tiresome as Jar-Jar Binks in “Star Wars: Episode 1”. A few moments include an unusual rapport with an overseas OnStar operator, a predictable miscommunication with an assumed hit man, and the intentional soiling of a toothbrush, not to mention some pretty diabolical scheming.
Seth Gordon certainly has all the bases covered, especially for another formulaic summer misadventure, but ultimately delivers only what is expected. Most of the bumbling and debauchery that occurs throughout the course of this ill-conceived murder plot is boilerplate raunch comedy, which to Gordon’s credit is wrapped up rather efficiently in just under 100 minutes. Though it never seems that these characters actually believe that they are ever going to commit a triple homicide, it keeps “Horrible Bosses” out of darker territory and instead leaves us to enjoy the missteps of three everyday working men in very desperate times.