Movie Review: Horrible Bosses
By Matthew Huntley
July 14, 2011
Horrible Bosses is more or less what you expect, and that’s pretty good considering the previews and premise made it look funny. This is a set ‘em up and knock ‘em down kind of comedy that’s brisk, consistent and reliable, though it doesn’t exactly go above and beyond its call of duty. It does, however, give the actors, especially the villainous bosses, a chance to play rich, colorful characters, which they do quite well. I only wish we got to see more of them, because even though they’re meant to die, the bosses are the most interesting and amusing people on-screen.
The premise is simple: three buddies, all miserable at their current their jobs because of the people they work for, hire a hit man to kill their bosses. Nick (Jason Bateman) is an accountant at a financial firm and thought he was in line for a promotion, but his back-stabbing, egotistical boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), steals the opportunity out from under him. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) manages a chemical company under the leadership of Jack (Donald Sutherland), but when Jack suddenly dies, his coke-head, comb-over-wearing son, Bobby (Colin Farrell, very funny), takes over and starts demanding unreasonable requests, like “fire the fat people and the cripples.” Dale (Charlie Day) works as a dental assistant for Julie (Jennifer Aniston), a sex addict who violates just about every harassment policy in the book and demands that Dale sleep with her…or else.
Things have gotten so grim that Nick, Kurt and Dale believe they’d be doing the world a disservice by not having their bosses whacked, so they seek out a would-be assassin named Dean Jones (Jamie Foxx), who actually goes by a different name that’s too obscene to be printed here. Jones is not actually a murderer, but a murder consultant, and an inept one at that, though that’s part of his appeal, at least for us. Nick, Kurt and Dale aren’t exactly sure what they’re paying for since Jones’ advice is pretty obvious (he tells them not to get caught), but he does suggest something rather ingenious: have the friends kill each other’s bosses. That way, nothing gets traced back to any one of them.
As expected, during the course of one long, crazy night, the three experience a series of misadventures as they attempt murder in the first degree. Usually the act of killing people in the movies is portrayed as something easy, but not for these guys, and even though we can anticipate their mishaps, we cheerfully go along for the ride because the characters are so likable and, at the risk of sounding barbaric, a little part of us approves of what they’re doing. Well, maybe “approves” isn’t the right word, but we can at least identify with their pain. Who among us hasn’t had a boss we wanted out of the picture?
Even before they happen, we know none of the killings will go down smoothly; we know the heroes will run the risk of getting caught and eventually be questioned by the police; we know there will be an incident involving drugs or alcohol; and we know there will be a chase scene or two. But despite these inevitabilities, we still enjoy Horrible Bosses because we can tell it was made and performed by people who were all having a good time (just watch the outtakes reel over the closing credits). Their pleasure becomes ours and it’s entertaining.
What’s interesting is that although the three main characters have dark intentions, this is not a dark comedy. It’s not mean or cynical, but rather light and goofy. A comedy about killing people could go drastically wrong if put in the wrong hands, but director Seth Gordon steers clear of any mean-spiritedness or uncomfortable silences because he’s so keen on having us leave the theater smiling. He doesn’t want us questioning our moral values, which is why the movie sees its characters and their situations as absurd and over-the-top; it doesn’t expect us to take them seriously, and neither does it.
Key to the movie’s success is Spacey, Aniston and Farrell, who actually make us believe they are horrible beings. Their characters intentionally lack dimension because the screenwriters probably figured too much back story would humanize them and make us think Nick, Kurt and Dale are in the wrong for trying to kill them, which would have made the whole movie less funny and more awkward. And while it does suggest some of the motivations behind Spacey’s character, he, Aniston and Farrell mostly play rotten people. The point isn’t for the actors to create fully-realized characters but rather representations of the type of people we all loath. Farrell is especially good here, which is another reminder of his range.
There are some dry spells in Horrible Bosses to be sure, but it’s mostly fun, escapist entertainment. It’s nearly impossible for anyone watching it not to recall a boss they once wanted gone, even if it wasn’t their own, which makes me wonder how bosses will relate to it. Even though they’re depicted as extreme cases here, perhaps real bosses will still see a little bit of themselves on-screen, and if the movie can teach any one of them to be a better person and less, as the movie says, “douche baggy,” then maybe it does go above and beyond after all.