According to a statistic which I just made up over 83% of us will at some point have to work for a boss we hate. According to Horrible Bosses this figure is significantly higher. Seth Gordon, best known for his work on popular sit-coms like The Office (the not-as-good American one) and Modern Family takes the director’s chair for a comedy about three hard working Joes who just can’t stand their bosses. Penned by Michael Markowitz, the man responsible for the terminally unfunny Becker, Horrible Bosses sets out with a great premise and an all-star cast, yet falls short of the mark of becoming a great, memorable comedy movie.
So let’s start with that premise. Nick (Jason Bateman) works slavishly in a financial firm for the sadistic Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey). Believing that his hard work will pay off when he is promoted to the Senior Vice President role, Nick is stunned when Dave instead gives himself the job, amalgamating it with his current position. Dale (Charlie Day) is happily engaged and working as a Dental assistant, but his nymphomaniac boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston) makes his life Hell with her constant inappropriate behaviour and sexual advances. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) works for a waste management firm and loves his job, especially his father figure boss Jack (Donald Sutherland). But when Jack dies of a heart attack the company ends up in the hands of his coke addicted deucebag of a son Bobby (Colin Farrell). Over drinks one night the trio lament their predicaments, and decide that their lives would be better if they killed their bosses. What starts out as drunken hypothetical banter soon becomes a fully fledged plan, and with the help of murder consultant Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) they decide to kill each other’s bosses.
So far, so good. The chemistry between the cast works well, the early scenes are filled with razor sharp wit and the set-up should have unlimited comic potential. So what is it that lets Horrible Bosses down? The first problem is that the humour, while at times spot on, is of the frat-boy variety that doesn’t take long to become annoying and immature. The sexual humour works perfectly in Dale’s predicament and is carried off superbly by Aniston, who displays not only her rocking-hot body but a real flair in escaping her usual bubbly girl-next-door persona. But this humour is carried over into all aspects of the film and results in a whole series of one dimensional jokes, such as an old school friend offering hand-jobs for money or a mix-up involving a supposed assassin who turns out to offer a very different service.
These problems are exacerbated by the writing, which often lapses into the kind of mumbled, everyone talking over each other style that characterises a lot of modern American sit-coms. This becomes a particular drawback when it involves Charlie Day, whose whiny, high-pitched voice approaches Joe Pasquale levels of annoying. Jason Sudeikis is more successful as Kurt, whose inability to think outside of his pants leads to some amusing set-ups. However the saving grace of the central characters is, as usual, Jason Bateman, whose subtle style works well to balance some of the over the top antics and let’s face it, the guy could just sit their looking out the window and it would somehow be worth watching. The major stars all contribute well, with the possible exception of Jamie Foxx who seems like he can’t really be bothered, and it’s hard to blame him at times.
These drawbacks are unfortunate because there are a lot of enjoyable moments in Horrible Bosses. The scenes in which the would-be murderers go on a reconnaissance mission to find out where their respective targets live are excellent, each one finding a different, inventive way of going horribly wrong and showing just how hapless and out of their depth the characters are. The outcome is cleverly put together and shows what a different film Horrible Bosses could have been if the writers had maintained the same degree of focus in the middle third as in the opening and closing scenes.
The closing credits are designed to show what a good time everyone had while making Horrible Bosses and ironically this is the problem. It is funny that a film about working for bosses we hate could have been improved if everyone involved had worked harder instead of having so much fun. Perhaps Seth Gordon was wary of becoming too authoritative on-set for fear that his cast might not appreciate it and kill him…Whatever the reasons, Horrible Bosses just doesn’t live up to its potential and Jason Bateman is left to wait yet again for the film that will cement him as one of the best comedy actors in Hollywood. Keep plugging away Jason, you’ll get that promotion some day.