Friday, August 5, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Like The Hangover two years ago, the dark comedy Horrible Bosses has a set up that feels like a no-brainer, an instant relatable and simply premise.  Just as nearly everyone has a had a night of haze with little memory of the party the night before, nearly everyone has had a boss that you out right loathed; it's one of the those human condition rights of passage and one of the consistent things that collectively keeps a society together about bitching about.  But just as The Hangover took it's premise and made out with a crude, frat boy lark that became more and more grating and ugly as it kept going, Horrible Bosses follows the same course, only darker, less funny and in the end, irritating.  Directed by Seth Gordon, who made his debut with the superior (and quite funny) geeks in revolt documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and moved onto more sitcom commercialism with Four Christmases (2008), honing his TV-ready quirkiness on shows like Modern Family and The Office, Horrible Bosses comes with an uneasy built in feeling that it's funny because the world is supposed to hate authority.  The problem is there's so few precious laughs in the movie to start with, and the three protagonists come off as tools, nearly as vindictive and cruel as their evil, tyrannical superiors.  The film was written by TV vets Michael Markowitz, Jonathon M. Goldstein, and John Francis Daley, who will forever be remembered as Sam Weir, the head nerd from Freaks & Geeks.

Jason Bateman plays Nick, an over-worked, under-valued corporate slave.  Jason Sudeikis plays Kurt, a once happy book-keeper for a chemical company, whose world is shifted when his father-like bosses croaks and taken over by his evil son.  Charlie Day plays Dale, who works as a dental assistant under a boss that's prone to over-the-top (and nary believable) sexual ploys.  The three friends, whose bromance is collectively formed by their miserable work places (for lack of anything else), concoct a plan over drinks one night that their three evil bosses should be taken out.  They form a nutty, Strangers on a Train ripoff, type of plan to cancel out motive-- they even bring in a murder consultant as strategist, a badass type named Motherf***er Jones, played with not a care in the world, and a dash of spark the film really needed more of by Jamie Foxx.  What starts as a drunken joke takes flight, except that our nihilist heroes are pretty pathetic...not that a movie like this needs any sort of moral consciousness or anything, but presenting an idea of murder with people that we're suppose to root for should require a bit more hesitation or dimension.  Instead these three regular guys are nearly as awful as their targets.

The targets are Colin Farrell who plays Kurt's newly appointed supervisor, a coked up scoundrel with a bad haircut, Jennifer Aniston as the sexually hostile dentist, and Kevin Spacey as Nick's power mad executive foul.  For the record, Spacey is wonderful in full, crisp, Glengarry Glen Ross mode, his wit, urbanity and glittery Mr. Burns-like wickedness is despicable from the start, and he's but the only one in the cast who seems to be embracing the twisty, silly cartoon the film is trying so hard to be.  The film is less interested in Farrell and Aniston, who despite handsome screen time never come across as anything more than glorified cameos.  Farrell looks awful, and seems to be relishing the naughty behavior and disposition the film is allotting him, but there's little tension between him and Sudeikis, other than the fact that he's a total jerk.  Aniston is clearly relishing her chance to go against her Friends-doomed persona with her explicit and peppery dialogue, but never for a second does she convey sexual aggressor-- her scenes in particular have the feel of a fun table read that never progressed into anything more.

Horrible Bosses isn't quite horrible, but it comes fairly close.  I will the film one credit-- there's a brief joke in the film about the 1999 Ethan Hawke melodrama Snow Falling on Cedars (don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it or didn't see; it's nothing special), but the joke itself for the three people who get it was kind of funny, and absurd reference was a welcome respite for the relative snooze of the rest of the movie.  C-

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