Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are three high school friends with one thing in common: they all hate their jobs. Nick is an executive at a financial firm. He endures all manner of indignities at the hands of his boss Dave (Kevin Spacey) in hopes of one day getting a promotion to vice president. Dale is a dental assistant who must evade the aggressive sexual advances of his nymphomaniac boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston) on a daily basis. Kurt’s job at an industrial company becomes an ordeal when an insufferable coke head (Colin Ferrall) inherits the business from his dead father. After nights of commiserating at the local bar, the trio comes up with a simple solution: murder. They figure their lives would be much better if they could kill their bosses. They seek the help of the seedy Dean Jones (Jamie Foxx) to get the job done. This proves an impossible task, as a series of bungles and set-backs threatens to ruin everything.
Horrible Bosses is the latest in what has become a yearly tradition of shock humor films that center on male bonding. It operates in the same ballpark as the unnecessary rehash The Hangover Part II, but is playing in a decidedly different league. The makers of Horrible Bosses have taken the lessons learned by the success of the original The Hangover and applied them with a level of timing and restraint that obviously escaped Todd Philips and company during their second outing with the infamous wolfpack.
Horrible Bosses employs many of the smart assed touches that have become standard for films of this type. The introduction of each horrible boss is characterized by colorful insults that appear onscreen in bold type, accompanying the voice over dialogue by Jason Bateman. Other than that, the visual presentation of the film is fairly unremarkable, and that’s a huge positive. Slapstick comedies rarely benefit from a visual flourishes of any kind.
The plot, which is an absurdist variation on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, follows a basic rule of all good comedies: things should never go as planned. The script finds ways to up the ante without letting things get too surreal. The dilemmas that the unfortunate trio find themselves in are a natural extension of their own quirks and inadequacies. None of the plot machinations feel forced or contrived. The script sets the dominoes up and allows them to be knocked down one by one.
The key to a film like this is likeable if somewhat dimwitted characters. Jason Bateman is, as expected, the straight man. Bateman has the deadpan manner to effectively pull this character off, and he does. Charlie Day occupies what can be called the Zach Galifianakis role. He is the likeable weirdo who is meant to become the films breakout character. As the film progresses, Day indulges in histrionics that seem a bit at odds with how the character of Dale was established in the beginning. Jamie Foxx is great in his scant moments as Dean Jones. Spacey, Ferrall, and Aniston clearly understand who their characters are. They don’t add an ounce more than is necessary.
The films flaws keep it from being grounded in any sort of recognizable reality. The guys never seem to realize the seriousness of what they plan to do until the very last minute. None of them have what it takes to kill someone, especially characters who aren’t exactly villains deserving of horrible deaths. It would have been nice if the writers had included a moment or two more showing the fellas really having to ponder the idea of taking a human life. They could have also made the bosses a bit more evil.
Reservations aside, Horrible Bosses is funny as Hell. There’s no other way to describe it. Each joke pays off satisfyingly. It’s an example of modern shock humor done right. While there is a ton of vulgar and raunchy language, there is also a feeling of very slight restraint. It’s nice to know that some people still know how to mix a bit of humor in with the gross out elements. Now if only Todd Philips could have remembered that, the Hangover Part II might have been half as enjoyable as Horrible Bosses.