At some point in history, humans decided that they needed money, and as a result we invented this thing called work to earn the money to buy the things we don’t need. As if that wasn’t proof enough of our collective masochism, we then went and invented a hierarchical structure at work and placed the boss at the top of this pyramid. Designed to make our lives miserable through irrational and frequently unfathomable decisions, some hope to achieve bossdom while others simply hope to avoid their steely gaze. Then there’s those co-workers who go postal and murder their bosses. Seth Gordon’s Horrible Bosses sort of starts here.
A group of three friends each have problems at work. Nick (Jason Bateman, Paul) works overtime for his psycho boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, The Men Who Stare At Goats), who rewards his labour with emotional abuse. Dale (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is a dental assistant who is repeatedly and forcefully sexually harassed by his dentist boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston, Just Go With It). Meanwhile, Jack (Jason Sudeikis, Hall Pass) loves his job and his boss (Donald Sutherland, The Mechanic), until the latter dies leaving his deadbeat coke-addled son Bobby (Colin Farrell, Fright Night) in charge. After Kurt jokingly suggests over drinks that they should kill their bosses, they run with the idea, going so far as to hire hitman Motherfucker Jones (Jaime Foxx, Rio) to aid them. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
Horrible Bosses is the kind of black comedy that is simultaneously a throwback to screwball caper films, tempered in the coarser fires of the more recent The Hangover school of filmmaking. Although the opening act takes its time, and is filled with the kind of exposition that hardly seems necessary given the ultimate goal, it provides a solid foundation of characters upon which the film builds its comedy. These are all characters, or should we say caricatures, that we’ve seen before. Yet in the capable hands of improvisational comedians Bateman, Day and Sudeikis, the film motors along with an energy that its contemporaries often miss. Surprisingly film literate in places, with references to Strangers on a Train and a disarmingly funny nod to Snow Falling on Cedars, Horrible Bosses is the kind of comedy aimed at people who have grown weary of all those “other” comedies out there. That’s not to say it is consistently hilarious, with Bateman essentially playing the same character he’s produced in Arrested Development and Extract, but there’s genuine chemistry between the leads and a sense of uneasy camaraderie that is difficult to manufacture.
Sudeikis and Day are perhaps the greatest strengths in the film, with Day providing us with the highly strung character that allows us into the world, while Sudeikis effortlessly slides into the man-whore role that isn’t too far from his Hall Pass turn. All three bosses act against type, with Aniston in particular revelling in not playing a rom-com girlfriend, and instead working her sexy out for some nympho bitchiness. Spacey typically pleases, only a few shades away from Swimming with Sharks, and Farrell is almost unrecognisable as the sleazy coke-head with a pot belly and a dodgy combover. Moral ambiguities are easily swept aside at the sheer nastiness of these bosses, allowing for unfettered hijinks. Supporting players such as Foxx, with a side-splitting origin story for his unique first name, and Ioan Gruffudd as the “Wet work” man, pepper the comedy with unexpected moments, keeping this comedy fresh.
Director Seth Gordon is perhaps most known for his documentaries King of Kong and Freakonomics, and with the exception of a few TV episodes, his only fictional effort has been the uneven Four Holidays. Gordon handles the large cast capably, with each member given the freedom to draw upon their own improvisational skills within the confines of Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein’s script. Each of the writers has worked largely in television, and while the episodic nature of this comedy may betray those origins, there is certainly a strong group of players here lifting this into a territory of regular chuckles.
Horrible Bosses is released on 25 August 2011 in Australia from Roadshow Films.