We are now inhabiting the post-”Hangover” world, and in case you needed any proof that studios are looking to locate the success gene in the hit comedy’s DNA, I submit “Horrible Bosses” as evidence. It really shouldn’t surprise you; it’s a page straight from the television networks’ playbook. As soon as Fox premiered “American Idol,” every network wanted a singing competition. After ABC had a big hit with “Dancing with the Stars,” every network suddenly had a dancing show. We live in a culture of thinly veiled rip-offs that barely bother to disguise their ever-so-slight variations from the original success story.
The good news for Seth Gordon and the “Horrible Bosses” team is that, at least at this moment, I still find the formula amusing and funny. The next movie shamelessly pressed from the “Hangover” mold, however, will probably not be in my good graces, so at least they got the timing right on this one. But the fact that some movie other than the sequel has tried using a similar blueprint for high cash and laugh returns signals a foreboding era in comedy. (Then again, I said the same thing last summer about “Iron Man 2” being the first of many “The Dark Knight” rip-offs, and nothing seems to have materialized there.)
The film invites these comparisons by using what may be the most recognizable aspect of “The Hangover” for laughs – the Wolfpack. From now on, any comedy that has a ragtag alliance of three thirtysomething guys will inevitably have to be measured against the ridiculously high standard set by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Unfair? Probably. Justified? Definitely.
However, it’s not just the presence of three funnymen that makes the parallel clear; it’s that there is so little separating the “Horrible Bosses” guys from the Wolfpack. Jason Sudeikis is Bradley Cooper’s tail-chasing pretty boy, although he cedes de facto leadership of the bunch to Jason Bateman, who plays Ed Helms’ level-headed idea man who happens to be the only person in his friend group with a brain located in his head. And no raunchy comedy is complete with out Zach Galfianakis’ quirky bearded buffoon, here played by fresh face Charlie Day, the chipmunk-sounding dimwit with a thing for “Angry Birds” and the Ting Tings.
“Horrible Bosses” also uses the high concept like “The Hangover” to stretch the boundaries of what we would normally consider plausible, changing the question from “What if three guys were so drunk that they forgot a whole night?” to “What if three guys were so fed up with their bosses that they decided to murder them?” The bosses are pretty bad, ranging from blackmailing sleazes (Kevin Spacey) to nymphomaniacs (Jennifer Aniston) and even potbellied balding coke fiends (Colin Farrell). In a quest for psychological satisfaction in the workplace that puts Johnny Paycheck to shame, their rage and frustration leads them to sketchy bars, a misleading criminal (Jamie Foxx), and measures so desperate that they hardly make sense – unless, of course, you’re in an R-rated comedy.
But judging the film purely by its own merit, not against that of ‘The Hangover,” it’s decent fun and laughter with a few unexpected twists breaking the banality a tad. The situations, easily the film’s strongest aspect, are corny but still fairly funny. There aren’t any good quotables, and Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day don’t seem to feed off each other for humor quite as well as they should. In this Wolfpack, the sum is less than the total of its parts. It’s by no means the worst of the dirty comedies; on the other hand, it’s not among the best.
As for the sympathy for the down-and-out unemployed American worker that has been featured in post-recessionary cinema from “Up in the Air” to “Larry Crowne,” don’t expect to get any from “Horrible Bosses.” Despite the fact that millions of Americans would be happy to have a job, even if their boss is a psycho or a slavedriver, it kicks the bruised man while he’s down. The movie dangles a out-of-work Lehman Brothers worker like comedic bait for the audience, showing him as so desperate that he will perform lewd sexual acts on old high school pals in the bathroom. While I’m the first person to stand up for the rights of comedians to make appropriate satire (in other words, not Tracy Morgan’s recent hateful rant), this little bit just feels in poor taste. However, poor taste seems to be a specialty in R-rated comedy nowadays. ”Horrible Bosses” is definitely irreverent, but it’s a dish that tastes best to those who have ever had to work under Satan … or who happened to have not seen “The Hangover.” B-
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