Horrible Bosses (2011) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA - R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material
Running time: 98 min. (106 minutes for extended cut)

Cast: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Julie Bowen, Donald Sutherland, P.J. Byrne
Cameo: Ioan Gruffudd, Isaiah Mustafa, Ron White, Bob Newhart

Director: Seth Gordon
Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Review published October 12, 2011

horrible bosses 20119 to 5 meets Strangers on a Train in this zany workplace comedy that scores high on laughs even when the plot is full of typical sitcom developments. Reminiscent in tone to classic dark screwball comedies like Ruthless People, director Seth Gordon (Four Christmases, The King of Kong) succeeds by keeping the energy high, the actors flowing naturally with off-the-cuff reactions, and by keeping the tone light, the performances spot on, and the quips lightning-fast throughout, even during the pitch-black comedy moments.

Set in Los Angeles, the plot follows three best friends, Nick (Bateman, State of Play), Kurt (Sudeikis, Hall Pass), and Dale (Day) , all of whom hate their respective bosses at their current jobs for making the working environment completely unbearable with no respite in sight. Nick has spent the last eight years swallowing the abuse from his douchebag boss Dave (Spacey, Casino Jack) in the hope that he will get the promotion to VP that seems imminent, only to have that boss pull the rug right from under him and pump up his own salary in the process. Meanwhile, when Kurt's boss (Sutherland, The Eagle) dies suddenly, his good-for-nothing son Bobby (Farrell, In Bruges) takes over the business and proceed to undermine everything his father built up, including making Kurt do all of his evil bidding or lose his job. Lastly, Dental assistant Dale has problems most men would only be able to dream of, as the hot dentist he works, Julia (Aniston, Management), for won't stop sexually harassing him, insisting he cheat on his fiancée with her or she will tell her they did it anyway, and even has the phony pictures to prove it.

Their only recourse, or so they think, isn't to quit, because, in this economy, it's hard to find jobs. It's to kill those horrible bosses. They go on a search for a professional hit man (Foxx, The Soloist) but can't afford to pay him to do more than consult them on what to do, which is for them kill each other's bosses and make the murders look like accidents. And that's easier said than done for these bumbling three.

Films like this often make the villains so heinous that they become far more fun to follow than the protagonists, to the point where we grow tired of seeing the good guys and wishing for more mayhem. Horrible Bosses bucks the trend by not only making the scenes of the 'three stooges' among the funniest moments of the film, they offer a very diverse selection of bad bosses, including a surprisingly funny turn by Colin Farrell, sporting a hideous comb-over, as the wacked-out kung-fu cokehead. Spacey's d-bag is not much of a stretch for him (basically, a retooling of his Swimming with Sharks character), but few play the part better, while Aniston gets to play a sexpot on steroids, revealing nearly all of her well-toned body (though no actual nudity) in her most outrageous, and least girl-next-door performance to date.

The 'good guys' also do their own vicious things, but we like them enough that we're willing to see their foes get their comeuppance, should it actually come to that. Day, whose "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" fans will recognize his familiar characterization, gets most of the zaniest gags, especially after he accidentally snorts up a copious amount of cocaine during one of the break-ins. Sudeikis gets to play his affable, slightly daft womanizer, while Bateman continues his string of sarcastic, deadpan pricks that works well with the energetic riffing of his partners in crime.

Well edited, with a good use of soundtrack, Horrible Bosses excels at what it sets out to do: set the table for consummate watchability and laughs.  It's all in keeping with the post-Judd Apatow and The Hangover style of witty, raunchy comedy, but it's one of the better examples. It doesn't have the undercurrent of sweetness to temper the vicious antagonism, but the laughs are there consistently, even during the most ridiculous moments, which is all anyone might require or expect from their ribald comedies these days.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2011 Vince Leo