It's no secret that film critics love their puns, especially when mauling a movie. So including an adjective like "horrible" in a film title is a risky move for a studio. (Check out the quips about Bad Teacher at Rotten Tomatoes, for example.) Fortunately for Warner Bros. and its new comedy Horrible Bosses, the movie doesn't live up to its name.
While no means the breakout comedy of the summer that's yet to arrive -- sorry, but Bridesmaids wasn't it -- Horrible Bosses delivers laughs, along with a full-proof premise of bad people getting theirs, and big-name actors doing what it takes to make sure it works.
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Stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day are three working-class stiffs stuck with bosses from hell. Nick (Bateman) is a dedicated mid-level executive who's been tolerating his abusive boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), to move up in the company. Kurt (Sudeikis) is a manager at a chemical plant who happens to love his boss, the owner of the company. Then the beloved boss dies after a heart attack and his coked-out jerk of a son, Bobby (Colin Farrell), takes over. And Dale (Day) is a dental technician who suffers daily sexual harassment from his boss, Julia, (Jennifer Aniston), the office dentist.
Things are miserable for the three friends and it only gets worse after Nick's boss promotes himself to the job, and Julia threatens to ruin Dale's impending marriage with compromising photos if he doesn't have sex with her.
In desperation, the trio decide that killing their bosses is their best and only solution and go in search of a hitman to eliminate their problems. They meet Dean Jones (Jamie Foxx) in a rough-neighborhood bar, a former inmate who offers them advice for a fee, including the suggestion that the friends kill each other's bosses so there's no motive for the police to trace. Little goes right in their plans, of course, but in often unexpected, comical ways.
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The cast is terrific. Bateman plays the standard and comically dependable Bateman role, with some profanities tossed in, while Sudeikis and Day, who paired memorably as two smart-aleck best friends in last year's romantic comedy Going the Distance, dish out some funny lines as well. Farrell, barely recognizable as Bobby with glasses and a bad comb-over, gets laughs every time he's on the screen, which isn't enough, as does Foxx, whose Jones isn't what he seems to be.
Spacey is so good at playing the slimy, vindictive boss that his performance isn't so much funny as it is dramatic and psychotic. Do you laugh at Dave or fear him? The most talked-about role, though, certainly will be Aniston, who steals scenes as the sexed-up and foul-mouthed dentist. It's a successful leap forward for the actress, who clearly relishes the opportunity to chip away at the good-girl image she's cultivated for so long on TV and onscreen. Even at 42, she's still stunning enough to pull it off with ease.
Horrible Bosses was directed by Seth Gordon, making his second stab at a feature-length comedy. His first attempt was 2008's critical clunker Four Christmases. But most are probably familiar with him for his wonderfully entertaining documentary The King of Kong. (If you haven't watched it, do yourself a favor and rent it or get it on Netflix soon.) Horrible Bosses is proof that Gordon can handle directing comedy; he's certainly smart enough to trust the talented cast and a pretty-good script, and to keep things moving along at a nice clip. This is a 98-minute comedy that feels even shorter than that.
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Michael Markowitz, Jonathan M. Goldstein, and John Francis Daley are credited with the script, which represents the first screenwriting credit for each, though Markowitz and Goldstein have written for several TV sitcoms. Daley, by the way, is an actor on Bones and played Sam on Freaks and Geeks, which was executive produced by Judd Apatow. Coincidentally or not, Horrible Bosses has the low-brow feel of an Apatow comedy, though there's never that one "instant classic" gross-out scene that will be watercooler fodder for several weeks. (Aniston's flirtations in the office and in a bathtub might come close.) Instead, it's a stream of small to medium laughs with some lulls when the gags aren't working.
Overall, Horrible Bosses makes for a good but not great comedy, and considering how Bad the summer's been for comedies, there's nothing Horrible with that.
Directed by Seth Gordon. Screenplay by Michael Markowitz, et al. A Warner Bros. Pictures release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug material. Running time: 98 minutes.
Critic's rating: * * *
Nick .......... Jason Bateman
Kurt .......... Jason Sudeikis
Dale .......... Charlie Day
***** Outstanding; **** Very Good; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.