Twelve years ago, Mike Judge mastered the cubicle comedy with “Office Space.” His workers just wanted freedom. In this summer’s “Horrible Bosses,” all the workers want to do is have their bosses killed. It’s funny how things change like that.
“Horrible Bosses” follows the lives of three men who are troubled at work: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudekis), and Dale (Charlie Day). Nick goes by the life theory that good things only come when you work too hard and take orders excessively. His psychotic, manipulative boss Dave Harkin (Kevin Spacey), takes advantage of him and eventually takes over the job that would have been Nick’s.
Of the three of them, Kurt is happiest at his job as an accountant at a small chemical company until his boss’s son Bobby Pellitt (Collin Farrell) takes over the company. Bobby is a Scarface wannabe who has no regard for the company he works for. At one point, he tells Kurt to “trim the fat” from the company (by that, he means, fire all the fat people).
Then there is Dale, who’s only purpose in the world is to be the perfect husband. Though he does need some money to support himself, so naturally he becomes a dental hygienist. Unfortunately, his incredibly inappropriate boss, Julia (Jennifer Aniston), is sexually harassing him and prepares a blackmail plan to get him to have sex with her.
The three men constantly reconvene at Applebee’s and discuss their problems until one day they realize that they must kill their bosses in order to achieve happiness. So, they hire a criminal (Jamie Foxx) to help them out. As accordance to the law of comedy, things don’t work out quite as planned.
“Horrible Bosses” is a great summer blockbuster comedy and it succeeds where many other in this field have failed in both being funny and being entertaining. Films like this usually have to deal with following a stringent plot structure and arrive at a certain plot point (think of “The Hangover” movies). While “Horrible Bosses” must not veer from its murder attempt plot line, it also doesn’t hesitate to let everyone involved enjoy themselves a little. What can be picked up from the hilarious outtakes seen in the credits is that improvisation is not out of the “Horrible Bosses” formula.
I’ve always believed that comedy consists of a good mix of good acting, and even better writing. Writing makes a good comedy smart and plausible, and good acting makes the characters and every bit of dialogue spring to life. Yes, “Horrible Bosses” can be described as a dirty comedy in every sense of the word. However, the dirtiness seems more of showing a way people behave and think rather than a way to simply be shocking. A lot of the dirty humor is simply conversational, such as the scene in which the guys argue about who would be most likely to get raped in prison.
It is safe to say that “Horrible Bosses” has one of the best comedic ensembles assembled in many years. All three of the main stars have each developed a certain character and personality through their roles. Bateman plays the vulnerable workaholic straight man that he created in “Arrested Development.” Luckily, that persona never died once that show was cancelled. Day is basically playing the same version of his character in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”: a loveably inept idiot who shouldn’t be around, seeing as he screws everything up, but having him there makes the story all the better. Then there is Sudeikis, who can now be named a movie star. Here, he continues the horny everyman character he created in this past February’s underrated “Hall Pass.”
The villains are all perfectly cast as well, with Farrell giving the best (or maybe, the most believable) performance out of all of them. Spacey goes a little too over-the-top for comfort at times, but it definitely seems like he was enjoying himself. Aniston, usually the good girl, is surprisingly the dirtiest character in the whole film. Now, that is good shock humor: making an actor go totally outside their comfort zone, and then making them really good at it.
“Horrible Bosses” consistently works. It’s not perfect (I’m still not used to computers as being a main plot point a movie), but it does everything it can for laughs without debasing itself. Like any good comedy, it has a great sense of recall. As opposed to dropping side characters it introduces early on, it brings them back and ties them into the story in very neat ways. Also, it is not as predictable as, say, “The Hangover: Part II.” I think I can now forgive director Seth Gordon for having previously made “Four Christmases.”
The one thing I keep going back to in “Horrible Bosses,” is the strength of its characters. In good comedy, it is forgivable to have an implausible plot as long as the characters feel real. After all, humor usually comes from sticking ordinary people into a heightened reality. Because there’s nothing funnier than watching three white guys from the suburbs walk into a bar in downtown Los Angeles.