Details: (M), In Cinemas 25 August 2011, United States, English
Synopsis: Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realise they are standing in the way of their happiness.
Comedic revenge fantasy too tame to work.
Horrible Bosses is a comedy in the manner of The Hangover, delivered in the now familiar cocky-stand-up style of a Judd Apatow picture, where the gags trump character every time and the situations start off embarrassing and end in complete mortification (for both the cast and the audience, perhaps?). It’s about three thirty-something guys, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, who are stuck in mid-level jobs they loathe. With each blaming their respective bosses for their woes, they figure the only real way to “free” themselves is to kill off each of their horrible bosses. The central joke of the movie is that these guys are kind of useless anyway, so their plot (or is it plots?) seems destined to fail. Chaos ensures and much hilarity is intended to follow.
The director here is Seth Gordon (Four Holidays, 2008) and the credits declaim it was written by a trio of TV sitcom veterans, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein and Michael Markowitz. (Though it’s understood that in comedy, especially with a good cast like this one, credits are not necessarily all that reliable.) In TV, ‘playing dirty’ is a matter of inference, innuendo and timing. Here it’s about grabbing a gag and beating it death. Actually Horrible Bosses has a pretty high joke quotient. Example: There’s a character here, played with chilling drollery by Jamie Foxx, called ‘Motherf**ker Jones’. Later we learn he was once known to friends and acquaintances as ‘C**ksucker Jones’. I thought this joke was pretty funny. (I read it as genre satire, though I admit that’s crediting a crude gag with an elegance that perhaps it does not deserve; but then I confess to a taste for stupid character names too, so that’s my alibi.)
Mr. ah, Jones is hired by Bateman and co. as a “murder consultant”. He recommends that each of the boys kill the other’s boss… the old ‘criss-cross’ in Strangers on a Train. This bit of plot business turns out to be one of the film's better gags. It seems a critique at the expense of movie and TV writers who almost always portray ‘bad guys’ in terms of ethnic stereotypes; the movie’s three white heroes are so unworldly (and unconsciously and casually racist) that when they think about getting advice on how to kill, why not ask an African-American?!
Still, the best gags in the movie are the incidental moments; a look, a line, a bit of clever technique. (Like the way Gordon uses over-sized comic titles and free-frames to ‘name and shame’ each of the bosses they’ve introduced.)
What’s disappointing is the way the film’s bosses are shaped and created, which seems to deflate the movie; the jokes keep coming, but the film has no centre. Spacey plays Bateman’s boss; it’s a re-tread of Spacey’s patented arsehole character. Fast-talking, viscous, intensely cruel, it’s a funny bit, but it goes nowhere. Colin Farrell is boss to Sudekis; he is whirl of bad taste and bad habits – he’s a sexist, racist, lazy cokehead. Charlie Day plays a dental tech and his boss is Jennifer Aniston, who likes to have sex with patients (while they’re under anesthetic). She likes to talk about sex and what she likes “to do” (think of every possibility and double-it), and listening to these pornographic monologues in the work place makes Day’s character uncomfortable; worse, she’s determined to bed him, before his upcoming nuptials.
Sound funny? Well, yeah… but it’s comedy without bite. What’s interesting here is the choice Gordon and co. have made to not make a movie about work. Or to put it another way, the movie should have been called Horrible Psycho’s Who Happen To Be Bosses… because what makes them terrible to deal with in the workplace isn’t their management skills, or lack of compassion or corrupt practices, but their hideous personalities.
Watching it I had the sneaking suspicion that the last thing the filmmakers wanted to do was to satirise the workplace in any meaningful way. That’s too risky, since it's potentially alienating, and inevitably political. Horrible Bosses is another example of the timid, reactionary sensibility of recent American corporate cinema. It’s kinda funny to think of the film that way, especially when it that takes such pride in being so ‘rude’. It is, but it also plays it very, very safe.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
Land, Money and Power… Dig deep into Australia’s epic history of mining.
The Tony award-winner sings Broadway numbers and re-imagines modern tunes from Lady Gaga to Sting.