Monday, July 18, 2011



- Horrible Bosses is one of those movies that must have sounded great in one-sentance pitch-form. "A group of average guys bands together to kill their awful bosses." A great premise for a movie - and a perfect idea to sell to the studios. Afterall, everyone can relate to having to deal with a terrible boss. This is comedy gold. But as with all movies, the devil's in the details. To make a premise like this work, you need great characters, a story that's funny but makes some strange sort of sense, and a number of outrageous moments to keep the laughs coming. But Horrible Bosses is way too all-over-the-place to ever really gel as an effective, memorable comedy. It has some killer moments (no pun intended), but it pretty quickly derails from the elegant simplicity of its premise and loses steam as it goes.

When I think about a movie like Horrible Bosses, I think of the challenge of making the script work in a way that makes things amusingly, darkly funny but also works under a certain sort of logic. I mean, we're dealing with average, otherwise well-behaved guys whose bosses are so horrible, so awful, that they would drive their employees to not just contemplate - but actually go through with - cold-blooded murder. Horrible Bosses, however, never really makes the case for such extreme measures. The closest it comes with its three protagonists is with Jason Bateman and his convincingly horrible boss, played by the always-good-at-being-a-bastard Kevin Spacey. Spacey is just terrible enough that you can see how he might drive an ordinary man to find his inner stone-cold-killah. And maybe, just maybe, the movie would have worked better if it was solely focused on Bateman and his quest to off his boss. But for whatever reason, Horrible Bosses tries to do a somewhat half-assed riff on Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, with three characters who each agree to kill *each others'* bosses. But at some point, they try to hire a hitman to do it instead. Later, it looks like the plan shifts to somehow manipulate the bosses into killing each other. And ultimately, none of that ever really happens and the whole movie ends up feeling sort of pointless.

Again, the whole fun of a movie like this should be the average guy or guys trying to hatch the perfect murder, and then executing it through to the bloody end - with perhaps a good twist or two along the way to spice things up. But it felt like this movie started off with a simple idea of that sort, and then, somewhere along the way, really lost track and got too complicated for its own good.

One reason I say that is that, other than the really well-done Bateman-Spacey relationship, the other two employee-boss rivalries just aren't that strong. Jason Sudeikis plays a guy who really loves his boss - a fatherly, good-natured mentor type played by Donald Sutherland. But when Sutherland's character passes away, his idiot, drug-addicted son takes over. Colin Farell plays against-type as the bald, pot-bellied loose cannon of a new boss, and he seems to be having fun with the part. But, the character just seems like a random collection of undesirable traits rather than an actual person. Plus, so little time is spent on the dynamic between him and Sudekis that, again, the idea of murdering him seems a little out-of-nowhere. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston plays the boss of squeeky-voiced Charlie Day - she is a dentist and he is her hygenist. The problem? Aniston sexually harrasses her assistant - making repeated passes at him and throwing herself on him in a way that most guys would probably welcome, but Day - happily married and a fan of personal space - can't stand. So the question is - how do you make a hot boss trying to seduce her employee someone who is in fact so scary, so disturbed, that her employee actually wants to kill her? Well, let's be honest - I don't know that you can. Day gives it his all to play his squirmy character as a guy bottling up some serious, repressed rage towards his walking-sexual-harrassment-suit of a boss. But still - in the movie, Sudeikis and Bateman laugh at Day's "predicament," and we sort of have to side with them. Okay, so Aniston does a good job of being not so much seductive as creepy and weird, but surely, murder ain't the answer here? All I'm trying to say is -- this movie needs to sell us on its premise, and I don't know that it ever really does.

Aside from the amusingly snake-like Spacey, and a couple of so-gross-they're-hilarious moments from Aniston, the real scene stealer here is clearly Jamie Foxx. Foxx plays a seemingly-badass hitman-for-hire, and he is hilarious. The role brought to mind the old days of Foxx doing crazy characters on In Living Color. And hey, even if he dabbles in more dramatic roles these days, the guy's still one funny dude when he wants to be. I won't spoil some of the surprises around his character here, but suffice it to say - he has a high percentage of the movie's biggest laugh-out-loud moments, even with relatively short sceen time.

Otherwise, most of the movie's funniest bits come from the random little moments between its three leads. The movie has a habit of letting Bateman, Sudekis, and Day drift into these little improv-y conversations, and the movie just feels smarter and funnier the more it seems to go off-script. There are some great little bits in the margins of the movie. But too often, the meat of the script seems way too "brotacular" for its own good. It's something that annoyed me in The Hangover and The Hangover 2, and similarly annoyed me here - the scenes of the guys sitting around and just chillin' feel forced and just, well, off. There's also a mean-spiritedness in the dialogue that I found off-putting. We're supposed to be rooting for these guys - and to root for someone to get away with murder, they have to be pretty darn likable. Honestly, all three of the main characters in Horrible Bosses felt pretty douchey to me.

There are definitely moments where the movie shines, and there are some individual scenes that inspire big laughs. But overall, I felt like this movie took what could have been a simple, novel premise and failed to execute on it (again, no pun intended). The flow of the movie seems jumpy and the pacing uneven (Jennifer Aniston's character inexplicably disappears for the third act, before popping up in a hasty end-tag). The humor is hit or miss. And the characters never feel very justified in their actions. Is Horrible Bosses horrible? No, it's a decent comedy. But it could have been much more.

My Grade: C+

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