"Horrible Bosses" Relies on the Comic Genius of Its Stars

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 15, 2011

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(L-r) JASON SUDEIKIS as Kurt Buckman, CHARLIE DAY as Dale Arbus, and JASON BATEMAN as Nick Hendricks in New Line Cinema�s comedy �HORRIBLE BOSSES,� a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Grade: C-
 
A ramshackle assembly of recycled characters and conflicting tones duct-taped together at odd angles, director Seth Gordon’s contribution to the summer of raunchy, R-rated comedy squanders a wonderfully relatable premise: Have any of us not dreamed of murdering an employer at one point or another? (Though never at PW, of course.)

Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis, along with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s ace screamer Charlie Day, star as three middle-aged, put-upon schlubs terrorized by irrational supervisors. Bateman has been cruelly denied a promotion by Kevin Spacey, who auto-pilot-reprises his Swimming With Sharks role to rote comic effect. Sudeikis is stuck watching Colin Farrell’s comb-over pated cokehead drive his chemical company into the ground, while most improbably, Day is tormented by the crude sexual harassment of the world’s hottest dentist (Jennifer Aniston.)

Taking terrible advice from a “murder consultant” named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx,) these three suburban sad-sacks try to dream up a triple-homicide conspiracy that—much like Horrible Bosses itself—never really makes it past the idea phase.

The screenplay, by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, feels like a first draft, suffering from a crippling lack of consistency and the delusion that dirty words are, in and of themselves, inherently hilarious. The characterizations of our three leads are sketchy at best, relying on shorthand from previous roles. Bateman does his Michael Bluth schtick, muttering exasperated one-liners under his breath, while Sudeikis and Day rehash their rapport from last year’s Going The Distance. They’re all comic pros, abandoned to riff in a vacuum of absent specifics. Who exactly are these people?

Director Gordon, who helmed the sublime documentary The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters, as well as the gawdawful Vince Vaughn vehicle Four Christmases, exerts little control over the proceedings. He mostly just hangs back, keeps his leads in a three-shot and allows them to improv their way out of underwritten scenes. The movie can’t ever quite figure out a way to get all three bosses into the same scenario—or even the same comic universe. Watching it feels like channel-surfing.

Aniston’s character, an absurd male persecution fantasy, vanishes for large chunks of the picture, and Farrell’s gonzo performance is unforgivably short-shrifted. With all the talent involved on this roster, is naming a character “Motherfucker Jones” really the best they could come up with?

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