Which, I assume, is most of us. Right off the top, let’s get this out of the way. Horrible Bosses is not ground-breaking comedy. It’s definitely not ground-breaking filmmaking. If you’re looking for a comedy that colors outside the lines, check out Four Lions, if you want one that uses non-traditional filmmaking techniques, go see The Trip. I don’t think American comedy is hopeless—far, far from it—but I do think the best comics aren’t getting their scripts produced. Horrible Bosses could’ve gone so much further, been so much darker, pushed into truly unleashed comic territory, but at the end of the day it’s a product to be sold on the mass market which means pleasing the masses. So it’s got baby teeth where it could’ve had fangs.
That said, I really did enjoy it. I didn’t need Horrible Bosses to be that game-changing comedy because it never TRIED to be that game-changing comedy. All it tried to do was be a buddy/murder caper that delivered steady laughs in the middling-to-loud range, and it succeeded on that level. Murder comedy is hard because obviously, killing people isn’t funny. Yet it’s an irresistible setup for a comic, so there are a lot of murder comedies out there. When it works (Grosse Point Blank, Four Lions) it’s awesome, when it doesn’t, it’s painful (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers). Horrible Bosses avoids the worst of the murder comedy pitfalls by making bad bosses the target of the plot. And since we’ve all probably dealt with less-than-ideal workplace circumstances at one time or another, we identify and sympathize with the three protagonists.
Creating audience identification is just the first step, though. Next Horrible Bosses delivers us three really bad bosses. Kevin Spacey plays Harken, the president of an Initech-like generic corporation. Harken is Nick’s (Jason Bateman) boss, and he’s a “total fucking asshole” as the intertitle card tells us. Spacey does a great job in Horrible Bosses, getting the meatiest part of the trio of awful employers, but if you’ve seen Swimming with Sharks, it does feel like a bit of a retread. But Buddy Ackerman in Sharks is a great character and one of Spacey’s best performances, so even if Harken is highly derivative of that, I can roll with it because it really is a funny bit and deserves to be reused in a movie people will actually see.
Joining Spacey in the terrible trifecta is Jennifer Aniston as Julia, a sex-crazed deviant dentist who tortures Dale (Charlie Day, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) with constant sexual harassment and threats of ending his career as a dental hygienist (thanks to taking a drunken pee at a playground, Dale is a registered sex offender and finding jobs isn’t easy). Colin Farrell brings up the rear as Bobby, the cokehead son of Kurt’s (Jason Sudeikis) awesome boss, Mr. Pellitt (Donald Sutherland in a totally pointless cameo). Of the three, Farrell is the funniest and most underused. We all know about Farrell’s wild past, so scenes of him partying with “masseuses” play with an extra layer of humor, and his portrayal of a coked-out Bobby is um…very believable. It’s kind of a shame that Aniston got a bigger part than Farrell, because though she was tolerable and even effective in Horrible Bosses, her character simply wasn’t as funny as Farrell’s.
As for the three would-be murderers, Bateman is as he always is, which is to say—enjoyable, funny, and a capable scene partner. And Sudeikis is as he always is, which is—never the best guy in the room. Sudeikis works hard and he’s a decent improver, so I won’t sit here and say I didn’t enjoy him at all, but I did leave the theater thinking the movie would’ve been a bit funnier if Bateman got to leave his deadpan/Michael Bluth schtick behind and do something a little looser, along the lines of Sudeikis’ character. Bateman has great comic timing and a perfect deadpan, but he can be sillier and funnier than people let him be. He’s not just a straight man. Swap Sudeikis and Bateman and Horrible Bosses is instantly 27% funnier.
But the scene-stealer is Day, which, if you’re a fan of Sunny, shouldn’t be surprising. He gets all the best lines and his scenes are consistently the funniest in the movie. Day has the ability to ground his comedy in real humanity, which makes him the most effective person in the whole movie. Nick and Kurt don’t really sympathize with Dale—after all, his boss and hot and she wants to bang him, so how bad could it really be? But Dale’s opening narration tells us that all he wants is to be married and an establishing scene with his fiancée (Lindsay Sloane, Sabrina the Teenage Witch), shows us that he really does want to get married and that he values that commitment. Julia’s machinations threaten that happiness and while it’s funny how Nick and Kurt rip on him, we also feel for Dale when we see how upset he truly is, and how he tries to hide it with his friends.
If Horrible Bosses achieves any lasting effect, it will be to push Charlie Day into the center of the comedy scene in film. Already a staple on television, it’s only a matter of time before Day takes over film, too, and with a showcase like Horrible Bosses, I have to think that his time is coming sooner rather than later. His scene with Bateman when they accidentally snort some coke was the funniest bit in the whole movie and Day has the ability to own scene with one line. He does this several times throughout the movie, most notably when he mutters, “That’s a lot of gas…” as Julia doses an unconscious patient, and when he exits a scene saying, “Two loooong honks.” Delivering lines with no punchline that depend solely on timing and delivery is so hard yet Day tosses this stuff off like it’s nothing, which to him, I’m willing to bet that it really is nothing.
There are some short blooper clips at the end of the movie that show Sudeikis cycling through some one liners—I want to see Day doing that. I want to see him approach and re-approach a bit until it lands because watching a comedian like Day work is often funnier than watching him deliver the final scene. Here’s hoping we get more bloopers on the DVD. Horrible Bosses isn’t anything new, but it’s worth a watch just to see Charlie Day in a feature role.