Halfway between the “put the camera down and let them riff” style of Judd Apatow productions, and the “tight and visually stylized” Todd Phillips aesthetic, Horrible Bosses takes a high concept premise but then lets its actors play in this dark and funny comedy. The film stars Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudekis as men tormented by their employers, who drunkenly decide that homicide is justified in their cases. As director Seth Gordon told us, it’s a relate-able premise. Find out more below…

The Players:

The Story:

Nick Hendricks (Bateman) has accepted that his job sucks, but his boss Dave Harken (Spacey) keeps suggesting a big promotion is on the way. Dale Arbus (Day) loves his girlfriend and wants to marry her, but his boss Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) holds out his sex-crime record (he urinated in a playground) over his head, and threatens that if he doesn’t sleep with her, she’ll fire him. Kurt Buckman (Sudekis) loves his boss Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland), but can’t stand his over-privileged and drugged out loser of a son Bobby (Farrell). When Jack dies and leaves the company to his son, and after Harken takes the promotion for himself and tells Nick that he will be his slave, the three decide that murder is a good way to get rid of their mutual headaches. So they go to a black club and try to hire someone with experience, which leads them to Motherf*cker Jones (Foxx), who becomes their murder consultant and tells them to kill each other’s bosses so there’s no linkage.

The Good:

  • The Set-Up: Even if the film has to acknowledge its debts to Strangers on a Train (and the films that ripped it off), everyone has been made miserable at least once by someone in a position of authority. That the gang is mostly incompetent only adds fuel to the fire. But it’s a great starting point.And though Todd Phillips’s The Hangover Part II is way slicker, in most ways this is a better sequel to the first Hangover.
  • Jamie Foxx: His character is having as much fun as you could possibly have in his situation. He’s got a bunch of naive men willing to pay him money because he’s black. He’s got a nickname because his original name is too weak, and his ten year bid was for something that turns out to be one of the best jokes in the movie. And though Foxx was used similarly as comic relief in Due Date, he really kills this part and walks away with the movie.
  • Jennifer Aniston: Though Spacey is good, he’s played the paranoid and smarmy boss before. And while it’s also fun to see Colin Farrell play ugly, you want a little more of him in the film (it’s understandable why he’s kept to a certain minimum, he’s a cokehead). So it’s Jennifer Aniston who really pops. She’s the one playing against type and she’s the one who gets to be the most ridiculous problem (on some level, it’s too bad that Day’s character isn’t a homosexual, so his reticence was a little stronger). She’s the one it’s most fun to watch act horrible.

The Lightning Rod:

  • Charlie Day: The divide with this character seems to be this: the people who enjoy his performance in Horrible Bosses are fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, while those who find it too high pitched aren’t familiar with his previous work. Having not seen Sunny, my response was that – though he was playing the “dumb” character of the three – he was just pitched too high and a little too stupid. But there was a similar critical divide when Jim Carrey hit the big screen. Day isn’t the same sort of divisive talent, but it’s interesting to see him be both the high and the low point for many watching the film.

The Bad:

  • The Ensemble: Sudekis and Bateman have done this before (with Sudekis, he’s paying pretty much the same character from Hall Pass), and their performances aren’t that memorable. The leads don’t pop, but that works to the movie’s benefit – for them to be likeable they have to be schlubby, and incompetent (at least at murder). And the film could take a little more of Farrell because he is going so far out there you want to marvel at how “ugly” he made himself.
  • A Sense of More: The film works, and it works well on its own terms, but there is a sense that a couple more passes of the draft, or something might make this a classic, versus a good night at the movies. Films like these are balancing acts, and there’s nothing so much wrong as a sense that it could go a little further or a little stronger with some things. It’s hard to tell if that’s playing it safe, or knowing the limits of audience alienation.

Overall:

It’s easy to tell when a comedy is good or bad because if you laugh, then it’s good. Though it’s no comedy classic, Horrible Bosses is one of those films that works well enough that the laughs are there, and everyone gets enough good moments for the film to work. And that’s all it needs to be.

Rating: 7.5/10

Horrible Bosses hits theaters July 8. Check it out.

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