‘Horrible Bosses’ is a futile attempt by director Seth Gordon to create a modern version of The Three Stooges. It is also one of the most vexing, exasperating R rated comedies I have seen all year. It opens with the great promise of a clever film, a great cast and an enthralling ‘can’t wait to see this movie’ premise. But all it delivered was lame jokes, incomprehensible plot points, unrelenting idiocy and characters no one human can possibly relate to – well, besides wanting to kill your boss at one point in your life. Altogether, most of the jokes just didn’t work.
Jason Bateman plays management candidate Nick Hendricks who has been logging 12-hour days and taking all the abuse he can withstand from Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) his boss with the promise of a well-earned promotion. But now he knows that’s never going to happen. Meanwhile, dental assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) has been struggling to maintain his self-respect against the relentless X-rated advances of Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), when she suddenly turns up the heat. And accountant Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) has just learned that his company’s corrupt new owner, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell), is not only bent on ruining his career but plans to funnel toxic waste into an unsuspecting population, after the unfortunate death of his father (Donald Sutherland). Their plan isn’t to quit their gigs, but to murder their bosses. So, on the strength of a few-too-many drinks and some dubious advice from ‘Motherfucker Jones’ (Jamie Foxx), a hustling ex-con whose street cred is priced on a sliding scale, the guys devise a convoluted but foolproof plan to rid the world of their respective employers… permanently. But even the best-laid plans are only as good as the brains behind them.
The promise of the premise alone is enough to attract people to the film, without having to hire A list comedians, because it relies singlehandedly on a story that almost anyone can identify with. As long as people can relate to a subject matter, you have half of the battle won. Disappointingly, the premise becomes diluted by all types of artificial writer devices to draw laughs and the film ultimately collapses under it.
The whole film felt comically forced and passé. The jokes felt engineered and seemed to be dictated by the success of today’s R rated comedies instead of the freshness that they initially brought.
The key problem with ‘Horrible Bosses’ though begins with Dale Arbus’s self-righteous storyline played by ordinary man Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) who is engaged to an ordinary looking woman. As you already know, the premise behind the film is about people who hate their bosses so much that they have decided they are going to kill them. But as you read above, the notion of an engaged heterosexual man being disgusted by the thought that his unbelievably hot female boss wants to bed him therefore wanting to kill her is abnormal. Yes, I understand his character is a nice guy who doesn’t want to cheat, but to want to kill her for this? No one is going to buy it. Not even women… unless he is secretly gay. Oh yes, somehow, screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein thought this plot line was funny. A drop dead gorgeous woman breaking the law, endangering her career and acting like a porn star over an average looking joe is not funny. It’s ridiculous. Yes, men would all love it, but we know it will never happen. Somehow they have confused the idea of ridiculous for hilarity. What would have worked and created a sense of realistic tension is for Dale to have to bed a hideous, unsightly woman. At that point all men would relate to him, something I couldn’t do throughout the whole movie. Movies are about the willing ‘suspension of disbelief’, the idea of infusing enough semblance of truth into a skeptical situation to convince a viewer to suspend judgment, even for a moment, about the implausibility of the narrative. None of that existed here. To have this be part of the principal plot was an affecting and inane decision.
But by no means is ‘Horrible Bosses’ unwatchable. I think the team meant well. It just wasn’t thought out well enough to live up to its potential. To be fair, its most clever parts are arguably during the opening, Bateman and Spacey’s interaction, the Jamie Foxx encounter, and bits and pieces towards its denouement. That is perhaps a total of 20-25 minutes of cleverness, not enough to pay for in today’s high priced movie ticket market.
Perhaps Seth Gordon won’t admit it or not, but there was an “inspired by…” The Three Stooges angle somewhere in here. These seemingly coherent men somehow are massive idiots when it comes to executing the basic functions of a plan. It begs the question – how did they get their jobs?
I must confess that the cast ensemble was a big coup. We haven’t seen Kevin Spacey play the big bad boss so convincingly since ‘Swimming with Sharks’ (1994) and ‘Glengary Glenn Ross’ (1992). But perhaps the biggest gift the producers have given film history is Jennifer Aniston’s sexually charged potty mouth that will be impressed into the memories of every man and lesbian that watches this. The sexual vile that comes out of her lips is lasciviously filthy. So why didn’t this movie do better then? It goes to show you that even a great cast and potent individual characters don’t always make for a great movie. All the ingredients were there though to pull this off. I’m curious to know what would have been the fate of this film had it been in more dexterous hands such as Judd Apatow.
I really wanted to like ‘Horrible Bosses’ and even though it was a good try, the reigning 2011 best R rated comedy is still ‘Bridesmaids’, which fused the best of everything, including Apatow.