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“’Horrible Bosses’ Isn’t Horrible, But Don’t We Deserve More Than That?”

“Horrible Bosses” isn't sure if it wants to be a dark comedy ala “Heathers” or a frat boy comedy like the Todd Philips films. Because of the mismatched tone, it doesn't succeed as either.  The script offers many belly chuckles but the protagonists are too stupid and the villains are too cardboard evil to resonate.

Three work drones abhor their bosses.  Nick (Jason Bateman) works for a viper (Kevin Spacey) who harangues him for coming two minutes late and hangs a promotion over his head. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), once the right hand man to the kindly boss now has to suffer with the promoted coke-head son (Colin Farrell). Newly engaged Dale (Charlie Day) has a predator boss (Jennifer Aniston) who blackmails him for sex. The boys are at the end of their rope and decide to murder their bosses.  They hire a hit man (Jamie Foxx) but have to rely on their own limited acumen to carry off these far from perfect murders.

Writers Michael Markowitz and Jonathan M. Goldstein come from the sitcom world and have not written a feature before while their co-writer John Francis Daley is mostly known as an actor (“Freaks and Geeks” and “Bones”).  Their education writing on “Becker” and “The PJs” may have polished their art for hilarious verbal gags, but also explains the paper thin characterizations.  Even the most nonsensical situations need to be routed in reality to be funny. Lucy and Ethel may have gotten bowls stuck on their heads but everything they did was conceivable based on their motivations.  Everything in this film happens for the cheap laugh, not because you believe for one minute they would actually do or say such absurdities. 

Much has been made of Aniston’s sleazy portrayal as the man-eater and she does have fun with dirty talk and lewd behavior, but if we understood why she had these compulsions, they would be funnier.  Spacey plays a reprise of “Swimming With Sharks” with no variation and Farrell isn’t given time to gel as the whoremonger with a heart of sludge.  As I watched the three dolts played by Bateman, Sudeikis and Day, I’m reminded of Day’s FX show “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” a wickedly funny but clever comedy that is so wrong and yet always so rewarding.  Day and his co-creators on THAT show (Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney) would have had a field day with this premise.

Though the film is an improvement from Seth Gordon’s last movie “Four Christmases,” that Reese Witherspoon/Vince Vaughn bore, his sense of character and comical timing is lax. A perfect example is his pulling out the old cliché of airing cast gaffes during the closing credits.  What seemed clever in the late 80s is now monotonous.  Cast members flub lines and are goofy on the set, hardy-har-har. It’s like being allowed to observe a party to which everyone but you has been invited.

“Horrible Bosses” is worth a laugh or 20 and makes a fine Saturday afternoon rental, but is not imaginative enough to be worth $15 bucks. Grade C+


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