Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses” is a cross between a “Hangover”-esque buddy comedy and an Alfred Hitchcock murder caper. (I can’t believe I just used “The Hangover” and Alfred Hitchcock in the same sentence, but in fact Gordon’s film gives a nod to Hitchcock’s 1951 film “Strangers on a Train.”)
Three friends decide one day to kill each of their bosses. See? It’s a premise that is goofy enough to be a buddy comedy and dark enough to be an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. But I’m probably making the film sound more sophisticated than it is. “Horrible Bosses” anything but smart and deep. The question is whether it’s funny.
The three buddies are Nick (“Arrested Developments” Jason Bateman) Kurt (“Saturday Night Live” cast member Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) and they really hate their bosses. Nick’s boss is Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), who in Nick’s words is “a total a**hole.” Dale’s boss is Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston), a sexy dentist who spends her days sexually harassing Dale. Finally, Kurt’s boss is a young, coke addict (Colin Ferrell) who only got the job because of his father’s (an unnecessary cameo from Donald Sutherland) sudden death. (But at least it’s nice to see Donald Sutherland’s still getting some work.)
Since they can’t quit, their only solution is to kill their bosses. Simple plan, right? Wrong. These guys are complete idiots, so of course there are complications.
Compared to past buddy comedy teams, the Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day trio is a mixed bag. Bateman phones in a funny but forgettable performance, as he usually does. Day’s high-pitched, high-energy humor is only funny in small doses. While Sudeikis was the best of the three, delivering a wimpy, yet fiery performance that made me laugh all the way through.
For the bosses, it was also hit and miss. Spacey gives a wonderfully cruel and merciless performance, bringing back hints of the attitude of his character from “American Beauty.” And he’s the only boss whose character is developed and therefore the most interesting. As for Anniston and Ferrell, they didn’t go much beyond their initial set-up jokes. Ferrell spends all of his time crazy and coked up while Anniston manages to shy away from her usual charming, good girl performance by playing a very strange, sex-obsessed woman. I wish the film had given her more to do besides being creepy and trying to seduce Dale.
The script, penned by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein, has its share of funny jokes. In particular when the guys go down to a bar in a dangerous neighborhood and find a hit man, played by Jamie Foxx, or when they do reconnaissance on each one of the bosses to figure out how to kill them. On the other hand there were plenty of ill inspired gags, like when they think they’ve hired a hit man who instead turns out to be man who urinates on people for sexual purposes. Unfortunately, by about the halfway mark when the murder caper aspect of the story sets in, the movie slows down and goes around in circles, until it comes to a rushed and ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.
After being subjected to such bland and conventional comedies as the recent Tom Hanks movie “Larry Crowne”, I’m all for some raunchy and offensive humor. “Horrible Bosses” is never afraid to show its vulgarity. Could “Horrible Bosses” be better? Of course. Was it funny enough for a light summer comedy? Definitely.