Film review by: Witney Seibold
Seth Gordon‘s “Horrible Bosses” falls squarely into an unnamed sub-genre of recent R-rated comedies that is marked by callow, spindly white guys whose spend most of the film shrieking and openly broadcasting their middle-class neuroses as if they are badges of honor. Reading the screenplay for “Horrible Bosses” must have been an arduous task at best, despite some good zingers here and there, and a generally good concept that probably read a lot darker than the film turned out to be.
Luckily for us, we have a talented cast of funny people to keep much of the material afloat. I was fond of Kevin Spacey as the psychotic, promotion-denying office manager, even though he was essentially playing almost the exact same role as he did in “Swimming with Sharks” in 1994. Jason Bateman, as Spacey’s punching bag, is immensely talented at deadpan outrage, and he was given some of the film’s best throwaway gags. Colin Farrell isn’t given much to do, but he acts the Hell out of his part as a coked-up douchebag with a greasy comb-over and an ugly Ed Hardy shirt. So thanks to the aplomb of these three, much of “Horrible Bosses” is light, funny and even kind of wry. Sadly, there is a lot of hateful material to get through. I’ll come back to that.
Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are a trio of fortysomething single white guys stuck in their wage-slave jobs. The defeated Nick works at some sort of unnamed office job, where Spacey brates him and denies him even the simplest of human escapes. The girlcrazy Kurt works at a chemical company, and finds his new boss Bobby (Farrell) is the exact opposite of his old one; i.e. a drug addict with a flimsy grasp of morals. The spineless Dale works in a dental office under the terrifyingly horny Dr. Harris (Jennifer Aniston), who openly molests Dale to an illegal degree. The three of them meet regularly to commiserate over beers, and swap bad boss stories. It’s when they have too many one evening that the three of them resolve that murdering their respective bosses would be easier and more practical than quitting and finding new jobs.
Let me stop for a second to address Dr. Harris, and the uncomfortable fear of sexuality she represents. I assume that Jennifer Aniston was cast in the role as she has a public image of being a kind of squeaky-clean actress, and is often thought of as the star of fluffy, forgettable romantic comedies. Hence, the director probably thought it would be funny to see her playing against type as a foulmouthed hellcat with a tendency to commit rape. But Dr. Harris is given no personality traits beyond her capacity to commit sex crimes. She’s not even depicted as a good dentist. She’s just the type of person who sprays water on her co-workers’ crotches, and licks them as she passes. I understand that she’s supposed to be a vilainess, and perhaps should be played broadly, but the resulting character may be uncomfortably sexist for some people, and display a fear of female sexuality that unfortunately marks a lot of R-rated comedies intended for teenage boys. There was a really sophisticated victim-predator relationship somewhere in “Horrible Bosses,” but the film is not mature enough to explore it.
Anyway, killing bosses. The three men drive to a dangerous neighborhood to find a hitman, and stumble upon Motherfucker Jones (a very game and very funny Jamie Foxx), who offers advice on how to commit the crimes. I was a little offended by the casual racism of the film, implying that the black bars are a good place to find criminals, but the film is good enough to call the characters on their racism later in the film. I can’t say how, though, as it would spoil a choice moment. The three heroes then decide to pull a “Strangers on a Train”-like scheme, and murder one another’s bosses.
Much of the film’s humor is mined from the sight of three crime neophytes trying to break into houses, and work themselves into the appropriate violent frenzy to kill. Will the film go as dark as you think? Yeah, you’re right. It won’t. This is essentially a film that is tapping into the bad economy and how the reluctance to rejoin a dodgy job-hunt can be emasculating.
Will you laugh during “Horrible Bosses?” Yeah, you probably will. Again, mostly for the talented cast. Sadly, for a black comedy, “Horrible Bosses” isn’t particularly black, and contains a few offensive moments of sexism and racism that bugged me. A friend off mine, though pointed out that no one can do a panicked shriek like Charlie Day, and in a film full of Day’s panicked shrieks, perhaps this is a virtue.