Most everyone has had a horrible boss at one time or another. It’s frustrating while you’re at work and funny when you’re removed from it, so a movie like “Horrible Bosses” should have written itself. That’s certainly why we would go to see a movie called “Horrible Bosses.” Instead, guys who penned such illustrious sitcoms as “Becker” and “Shit My Dad Says” wrote it, with help from the kid from “Freaks and Geeks.” Nevertheless, they did a terrible job.
Jason Bateman plays Nick, a salesman who is gunning for a promotion. Unfortunately for him, his boss is Kevin Spacey from “Swimming with Sharks” and what the film calls a “TOTAL FUCKING ASSHOLE.” Jason Sudeikis is Kurt, an accountant for a chemical company who also wouldn’t mind a promotion. His future is actually bright, until his grandfatherly boss (Donald Sutherland) dies seconds after proclaiming Kurt the heir apparent. Unfortunately for Kurt, there were no witnesses to this decree and his new boss is Sutherland’s “DIPSHIT COKEHEAD SON.” Charlie Day’s Dale is a kind-hearted spazz who just wants to get through his day as a dental hygienist without being sexually harassed by his boss, a sex-addicted “EVIL CRAZY BITCH.” (Predictably, his friends don’t see it as a problem because DUDE SHE’S SO HOT!!! Hilarious.)
The biggest problem with this premise is that it drags the tone all over the place. We are definitely meant to relate to these average Joes. We all work hard and are under-appreciated. We’ve been passed up for that promotion. We’ve seen our bosses exercise dubious judgment. We’ve been the recipients of an off-color joke or two in the workplace. Yet, it’s almost as if the writers have only heard about these things, not experienced them first hand. “Horrible Bosses” is the interpretation of a real workplace dilemma by people who have only ever worked in the innately over-the-top office called Hollywood. The bosses in this film aren’t just horrible; they’re almost supernaturally evil.
Spacey’s Dave Harken uses a realistically dismissive line like “We’re all on the same team,” to explain to Nick why he’s just given himself Nick’s promotion; but he follows it up with, “You’re my bitch. I own you.” A man with this much ego would never say something so obvious and direct because he’s already made his point with the subtler, cutting excuse that some are more equal than others. Bobby Pellit’s (Colin Farrell) threats to fire all the fat people and dump chemicals into the drinking water would never fly because he’s a walking law suit in an office full of disgruntled employees. The nymphomaniacal Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), is the most ridiculous of the three. If she were really as relentlessly, unquenchably horny as we are meant to believe, she would not wait around for a little mouse like Dale (Charlie Day) to satisfy her. She would fuck literally the next person she found and it would be all the same to her. I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to go along with the premise that her desire to have sex, specifically with Dale, would consume her every waking moment and drive her to concoct elaborate schemes to make it happen.
The outlandish bosses aren’t even the most cockamamie plot point. I understand why the writers would go to great pains to explain why quitting isn’t an option; not many people would see a movie called, “Horrible Previous Employers,” but instead of using their over-educated brains to come up with a way to get their bosses fired, our hapless crew instead decides that they must be killed. Killed. Yes, their bosses are technically evil, but we regular folk don’t just kill people. It’s the whole reason why that hypothetical question about going back in time to kill baby Hitler is even a QUESTION at all. The characters cite similarly themed films, “Strangers on a Train” and “Throw Momma from the Train” when they discuss the plot to take care of each other’s problems. But the difference is that the characters in those films are as insane as the people they’re trying to murder. Nick, Kurt and Dale are shortsighted buffoons with no common sense, but they’re not crazy.
Another difference is that the characters in those influential films were one-of-a-kind, memorable personalities. We’ve seen almost every single character in “Horrible Bosses” before. In most cases, they were played by the very same actors. Jason Bateman is pretty much Michael Bluth from “Arrested Development”, minus the delightful eccentrics to play off of. Jason Sudeikis is the same lecherous dork from “Hall Pass” with a higher success rate for booty snatching. Charlie Day does the same yell-acting that I’ve seen right before the end credits of every “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode that precedes something I actually want to watch on FX. I was bored for them, when I wasn’t too busy being bored myself. Also, there aren’t any trains at all in “Horrible Bosses.”
Jennifer Aniston is the biggest question mark in this debacle. In the past, she’s proven herself to be a competent comedic actress. In her better roles, she’s managed to completely shed her distracting movie star quality, which is something that a Julia or a Sandra could never do. She still churns out plenty of crap, but she doesn’t usually demean herself in the process. Playing a sexually confident woman should be empowering, but instead she’s labeled as an “EVIL CRAZY BITCH” (because whenever there’s something wrong with a woman, it’s because she’s “crazy”). I’m not advocating the idea that a woman can’t be capable of sexual harassment, but there is little difference between the forward things she says to Dale and the lecherous asides uttered by Kurt. It’s not supposed to be creepy when Kurt says, “I’m going to go see that girl about her vagina,” but it’s crossing the line when Dr. Harris talks about her own vagina to Dale. Granted, this whole argument is rendered moot when you consider the fact that people like Kurt exist while people like Dr. Harris do not.
I have to give credit to a couple of funny gags peppered throughout, but the laugh-out-loud moments are few and far between. I don’t even want to list them, because if you end up seeing the film (likely, considering the cast), you’ll have nothing to look forward to. It’s mostly a lot of tired bits (like the now classic argument about whom among them is more prison rape-able) and oh-no-he-didn’t moments. The world was a better place before people were obsessed with making this year’s “The Hangover” (especially you, Guys who made “The Hangover”).
Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).
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