Tough times are good for comedy, and Horrible Bosses taps deep, steaming fissures of economic fear and workplace trauma, venting it all through fevered comedic revenge fantasies. With a mean streak a mile wide and an inch deep, the movie would seem to be a nasty bit of business if it weren’t so concerned with being flat-out funny.
The setup is simple; a trio of thirtysomething wage slaves, Nick (Jason Bateman) Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), bond over their respective office misery. Each one is stuck under the thumb of an awful, soul-destroying boss, but they need the gigs; an embarrassing run-in with a desperate, unemployed old classmate convinces them that the job market is beyond bleak. Backed into tight corners, these essentially decent, hard-working dudes begin to ponder devious solutions to their mutual employer problems. Being clueless about such dastardly doings, these suburban goofs head to the hood looking for the sketchiest bar around, where they hire a “murder consultant” with an unprintable nickname, played with a wink by Jamie Foxx. His grand plan is for the guys to switch targets, a la Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, or the Danny DeVito-Billy Crystal spoof they’re more familiar with. Soon these numbskulls are fumbling their way through surveillance, shopping for rat poison, dust-busting huge piles of cocaine, and generally making a mess of the whole plot.
Most of this nonsense works due to a hilarious cast led by the easy chemistry of our affable assassins. Of course, nobody’s working overtime — these roles are tailor-made. Jason Bateman basically plays a less friendly version of Michael Bluth, a long-suffering sane man drowning in a sea of idiots. Bateman drolly balances the smug horniness of Sudeikis, and the dopey, hamster-like hyperactivity of Charlie Day, who’ll be a revelation to many, but has toiled for years on that edgy cable show you meant to get around to, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
The heroes are likable morons, but the villains are the movie’s biggest selling point, each one savoring the chance to go way over the top. A scene-gobbling Kevin Spacey leads the way, returning to the tyrannical, bullying ways of his role in Swimming with Sharks, which he slips into as easily as a shoe he’s about to park in some flunky’s butt. Colin Farrell is farther from his comfort zone, as a coked-up, karate-loving douche bag with a bad comb-over — he wants to fire all the office “fatties” because they bum him out. He’s more of a special effect here than he is a polished comedian, but isn’t on the screen long enough to screw things up. The treat is Jennifer Aniston’s man-eating vamp, slinking about in tight skirts and dentist’s lab coats like a living Maxim cover shoot; she’s a relentless, sexual-harassin’ dynamo. Is this role-reversal progress for women in Hollywood? Hell, no — but it’s certainly a step up from the quirky, faintly ditzy gals Aniston has played in so many mediocre romantic comedies, and she has a field day mopping up all the boys’ drool.
Horrible Bosses prefers love bites to bared fangs, and none of its cynical leanings develop into anything lethal. You want stinging satire about sexual politics and white male anxiety in a dehumanizing corporate world? Try Office Space, or early Jack Lemmon gems like The Apartment.