On-the-job training of would-be murderers
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, July 8, 2011
It had to happen. With the arrival of “Horrible Bosses,” the recession-themed comedy is now an official summer trend. (See the layoff-centric “Larry Crowne” and “Everything Must Go,” which center on Tom Hanks and Will Ferrell, respectively, losing their jobs. Never mind that “Everything” is technically a dramedy. Two words: Will Ferrell.)
This scorchingly raunchy — and yes, pretty funny — movie is built around the premise that three buddies (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) would rather murder their evil overseers than simply quit and look for new jobs.
Why? Because there are no other jobs out there. One brief, early scene makes that clear, by comparing the unhappy trio to another guy friend (P.J. Byrne) who, after two years of unemployment, has been reduced to hustling gay sex in bars.
Look, I told you it was raunchy. If the sweetly gentle, almost naive rom-com “Larry Crowne” is from Venus, then the testosterone-crazed “Horrible Bosses” is from Mars. Or maybe Uranus. (Yes, it’s that far out there.) In one memorable scene, Sudeikis’s Kurt inserts a toothbrush and other oral-care products belonging to his boss into one of his bodily orifices in an attempt to poison — or maybe just gross out — the guy.
Sporting a greasy comb-over, an almost-unrecognizable Colin Farrell plays that coked-out victim-in-waiting. The Irish actor has a field day with the role. When he orders Kurt to “trim the fat” in the office, he really means “fire the fat people.” Kevin Spacey is equally over the top as Harken, the smarmily psychopathic tormentor to Bateman’s Nick, a psychologically emasculated yes man who has waited eight years for a promotion, only to see Harken take the job for himself. The most horrible of the horrible bosses, Harken is a real pleasure, especially when he gets his comeuppance.
Jennifer Aniston, however, has the most memorable turn on the side of mismanagement, playing against the actress’s sweetheart reputation as a foulmouthed, sexually aggressive dentist for whom Day’s Dale works as a hygienist. She would be a walking harassment lawsuit — if not an open-and-shut case of attempted rape — except that Dale, who’s happily engaged to someone else (Lindsay Sloane), really, really needs the job, and hence must keep his mouth shut. Technically, he’s a convicted sex offender himself, having been arrested for urinating in an empty playground, in the middle of the night.
His situation, in which he merely has to put up with a hot, predatory supervisor, “doesn’t sound that bad,” according to Kurt. Still, the three friends decide to go in together on a murder plot, seeking advice from a shady consultant they meet in a bar (Jamie Foxx). It’s a fun cameo, if only for the character’s uproariously unprintable nickname.
Hilarity — or at least filth — ensues.
While the movie has plenty of hearty laughs, and precious little downtime, it is at moments swamped by its own sophomoric masculinity. Kurt, for example, is a horndog of the first order, almost derailing the trio’s plans by first seducing Dale’s boss, then Harken’s wife (Julie Bowen).
And the running joke of the Aniston-Day subplot — premised on the absurdity of anyone in her right mind finding Charlie Day irresistible — is a shameless adolescent male fantasy. It’s Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video, presented as deadpan documentary, which makes it all the funnier. Interestingly, director Seth Gordon first gained notice with his 2007 documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” which looked at overgrown adolescent males obsessed with the Donkey Kong video game.
There’s an underlying, nearly universal relatability to “Horrible Bosses” that can’t be denied and that screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein use to great advantage. When Nick fantasizes about tackling Harken, dragging him by the tie, and throwing him out the window of their office high-rise, I jotted down these words: “We’ve all been there.” [Note to editor: I’m not talking about you.]
And as far the frustrated worker-bee humor is concerned, we have all been there, men and women alike. When it comes to some of the more snickering, boy’s club comedy, however, it does help to have a Y chromosome.
Contains prolific obscenity, crude and sexual humor, drug use and some violence.