The title alone – "Horrible Bosses" – is probably enough to pack 'em into the multiplexes. Vicarious vengeance has always been a black comedy staple. But I came out of this film muttering "horrible movie," and I suspect I won't be alone.
The film's shaky premise has three buddies bumblingly plotting to finish off their very bad bosses. Nick Hendricks (a fine Jason Bateman) has always believed that sucking up to the head honcho is the best way to succeed in business – that is, until his loathsome supervisor Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, recapping his performance from "Swimming With Sharks"), gleefully fails to deliver a promised promotion.
Accountant Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), who was coddled by his company's paternal owner (Donald Sutherland), is confronted by Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), the new owner and boss's son, a cokehead diva looking to make a fortune funneling toxic waste into an unsuspecting community.
Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) is a gangly dental assistant, happily engaged to be married, whose predatory boss, Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), will stop at nothing, not even blackmail, to get him in the sack or the stirrups.
It would have been nice, of course, if the three screenwriters attached to this project – Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein – had managed to work a disgruntled female worker into the mix. But, of course, this is a guy comedy.
Of the 13 names listed in the directing, producing, and writing credits, only one is a woman.
This probably explains why the humor, even for this genre, is especially coarse – as if we in the audience might ask for our money back if there wasn't some kind of porno-laced gross-out in the dialogue every minute.
There is no compelling reason, other than the "Hangover" era in which we find ourselves, why this coarseness has to be a given. The bar, apparently, has to be continually raised – or is it lowered?
The coarseness wouldn't be so bad if at least the steady stream of obscenities were funny. But there is, after all, an art to talking dirty. Billy Wilder and his coscreenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, who collaborated on "Some Like It Hot," which is maybe the greatest comedy ever made, once bemoaned the racy language in "Shampoo" because they felt it was a cheap and easy way to avoid having to be witty.
Although I think they were wrong about "Shampoo" – sometimes nothing less than flat-out crudity is called for – I think their larger point remains sound. The comedy writers for movies such as "Horrible Bosses" and the execrable "Hangover" sequel and its burgeoning ilk are engaged in a can-you-top-this gross-a-thon that has nowhere to go but down. In place of wit we have yeccch.
The crudities and annoyances in "Horrible Bosses" extend beyond the strategically placed obscenity on the soundtrack. Director Seth Gordon milks our current recessionary woes as an excuse to inject some "heart" into the men's hapless job situation.
I guess this is what is meant in Hollywood by "redeeming social value." (The reasons the men can't simply quit their jobs and find others are unconvincingly cooked up.) The film also presents its women, not just the alpha dentist, as either sex fiends or ding-a-lings.
When "Bridesmaids" was recently hailed as a breakthrough comedy because it demonstrated that women could be just as gross as men, I cringed. Rather than being "liberating," that film was essentially a slobbola guy comedy in drag. At least "Horrible Bosses" doesn't present itself as anything but what it is.
And that's the problem. Grade: D+ (Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug material.)
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