Here’s the puzzle: Horrible Bosses is frequently very funny. One reason is that it does not bother to cut its coarseness with a hypocritical dose of sweetness or respectability. Nor does it make a big show of being provocative, of pretending that its forays into offensiveness are acts of bravery. It takes the ordinary human traits of stupidity, selfishness, lust and greed (and also stupidity), embeds them in a human condition that is confusing, unfair and also stupid, and turns the whole sorry spectacle into a carnival. The laughter is mean but also oddly pure: it expels shame and leaves you feeling dizzy, a little embarrassed and also exhilarated, kind of like the cocaine that two of the main characters consume by accident.
That’s a whole lot of words, but like the double rainbow, what does it mean? In the long run, what does it mean? Hit the jump to find out.
Longtime friends Nick, Dale and Kurt have had all they can stand from their respective bosses. Nick’s superior forces him to chug whiskey so he can call him an alcoholic during their office meetings. Kurt’s boss snorts coke and wants to fire people for being fat. Compared to those two monsters Dale’s boss Julie doesn’t sound so bad. All she does is sexually harasses him for eight hours of the day. And then, during one drunken night the buds wonder what it would take to remove their bosses from their lives. Permanently.
Before you can say wacky comedy premise, the trio agree to rub out their bosses. But how? They hire a “murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx to set their scheme in motion. But our heroes still don’t know the first thing about the fine art of assassination. This would be where the trademark “wacky hijinx” ensue.
Such a premise is, more often than not, dicey at best and disastrous at worst, but these actors develop such seamless chemistry, such fine-tuned rhythm, that all dangers fade away and we become instantly engaged with the resulting product of what seems to be the happiest movie set of the year.
Each of the bosses is particularly monstrous in his or her own special way, and the actors who embody them dig in with a vigor we really haven’t seen before, even from stars as accomplished as these. Kevin Spacey has played hard-ass bosses before, but he reaches an unexplored level of vicious narcissism as the smug company president who grooms Bateman to become his VP and then sabotages him with one cruel manipulation after another. Colin Farrell goes over the top in ways we’ve never seen. Aniston might have the most fun of all, playing against type and against her history to deliver one of the happiest psychotic nymphomaniacs to ever grace the screen. The ways in which she harasses Dale — who is loyal like a puppy to his fiance and just wants to be left alone — build to uncomfortable new heights every time Jennifer Aniston appears on screen.
Wonderful as all these elements are, the film is not quite perfect. The frenzied comedic material leads to some frayed screenplay edges, and while the story packs a satisfying amount of turns and surprises, the end result adds up to less than the sum of its parts. It would’ve helped to open the film — which takes on the properties of a chamber drama between the three central characters — up to a few more intriguing characters, including a female or two who actually isn’t a sex-crazed monster. And while the film is a near-constant laugh blast, it lacks the psychological depth that colors in the edges of really great comedy.
And yet the film works just about seamlessly as it is. A major part of that success is the film’s tone, which is especially crucial to a plot like this. Credit is due not only to the spirit of the actors but to director Seth Gordon and screenwriters John Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein. Gordon, who debuted with one of the most entertaining documentaries of recent years, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and experienced an uneasy transition to narrative features with Four Christmases, has very quickly found his footing as a comedy director. His timing as an orchestrator of big comedic moments is impeccable. That timing, applied to this very witty screenplay, which in turn is brought to life by actors who imbue every scene with unexpected kink and irresistible pathos, results in that most difficult of cinematic feats: comedy that works on nearly every level.