The movie “Horrible Bosses” has no message. As director Seth Gordon explains, it offers laughs without life lessons, plot twists sans pointed commentary about the anemic U.S. economy.
Yet it’s that anemic U.S. economy — the one that compels people to clutch mightily to any gig that pays a salary — that may make summer 2011 the ideal cultural climate for “Bosses,” a dark comedy about three buddies so stuck in their miserable jobs that they craft a misguided plan to bump off their abhorrent employers.
“It really hits on something true,” said Gordon, best known for his video-game-addict documentary “The King of Kong” and the rom-com “Four Christmases.” “It’s true for my friends, certainly. If they have a job and it’s at least decent, they feel lucky. Because, boy, it’s not easy to switch right now.”
It’s serendipitous that the movie, which opens Friday, is arriving at this moment of career-change angst. The screenplay was written before the economy tanked. As a result, some details — including those surrounding a minor character now explicitly defined as a former Lehman Brothers employee — were tweaked during production to emphasize how dire things feel for the unsatisfied working man.
“The details of that, I think, really helped support the story,” said Gordon, who chatted at the Hay-Adams Hotel during a quick promotional stop in Washington. “Because if these guys aren’t trapped, then why are they taking these extreme measures?”
Good question, Seth Gordon. Let’s ask the three leads of “Horrible Bosses,” who recently fulfilled a portion of their promotional duties by speaking via telephone from New York. Seriously, Charlie Day, Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis, why don’t your characters at least file a complaint with their human resources departments before considering cold-blooded murder as a stop on their career paths?
“I think a movie about three guys who spend a lot of time in the human resources department is probably a much less interesting film,” said Day, who stars in and produces the FX series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
“It would probably be a better David Mamet play,” noted Sudeikis, who also maintains another steady gig, on “Saturday Night Live.”
Bateman, a former TV star and now a perpetually wry presence in big-screen comedies, chimes in with another witticism, but it can’t be heard.
All three actors are in New York, and Warner Bros. has set up the interview as a four-way conference call. And it plays out pretty much like every conference call: At least one person can’t hear, the intended tone behind some comments fails to convey and nothing of consequence gets accomplished. At certain points, this interview about a dysfunctional-workplace comedy starts to sound like its own dysfunctional-workplace comedy.
Bateman, to reporter: Can you still hear us?
Reporter: I can hear you just fine.
Sudeikis: I can’t hear anything.
Bateman, again to reporter: It’s tough to hear YOU.
Reporter, borderline shouting: IS THIS BETTER?
Day: That’s much better.
Ever the dutiful employees, all parties press on to discuss the work environment on the “Horrible Bosses” set.
“Seth Gordon just created a really fun, fun set where there were no bad ideas and no one was made to feel a fool,” Bateman said. “I mean, I’d like to sit in traffic with Seth Gordon, you know? The man’s a real treat.”
Bateman — who famously ran the Bluth Corp. on “Arrested Development” and supervised George Clooney in “Up in the Air” — undoubtedly understands the value of sucking up to the boss. But in this case, his description seems accurate.
Wearing black Nikes with lime-green soles and a T-shirt from the Austin restaurant Chuy’s as he sips hot water with lemon, Gordon exudes calm acceptance.
“There are directors that kind of rule with an iron fist and are tyrannical and stomp their feet, and it’s kind of, my way or the highway. . . . I’m not very interested in that as a leadership style,” the 36-year-old said. “I’m a much bigger fan of create a safe environment where it’s fun to play around.”
As for the fictional bosses, there’s the environmentally unconscious chemical company chief executive played by Colin Farrell, a coke head who wants to fire all the obese and disabled people in his office. Then there’s the dentist played by Jennifer Aniston, a nymphomaniac who harasses her assistant (Day) in ways employee handbooks never dare to address. (Thanks to her newly public romance with D.C. native and writer-actor Justin Theroux, Aniston may have snagged more publicity for “Horrible Bosses” than the entire cast combined.)
But Kevin Spacey plays the most horrible boss of all: the unethical, mean-spirited psycho who turns the life of Bateman’s character into the office equivalent of daily waterboarding.
Let’s go back to that conference call.
Day: Even though Colin Farrell’s character was willing to let people die in — where was it, Bolivia? — Kevin Spacey is definitely the one who does the most psychological damage to his employee.
Bateman: I may have just been more effective at playing hurt and vulnerable than you guys.
Day: It could all be Bateman’s performance.
Sudeikis: Spacey [is the most frightening].
Day: That’s two votes for Spacey.
Bateman, again to reporter: Basically, just to sum up the answer — and I don’t mean to write for you but — Bateman is a knockout.
Hang on there, Bateman. In an economy where good jobs are rare, let’s let the reporter do her job.