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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Horrible Bosses (2011)

* *

Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell

Horrible Bosses has all the necessary ingredients for a great black comedy, but ends up feeling just a little bit undercooked. Yes, it has moments that, even if they don't quite attain greatness, at least deliver on comedy but with such a skilled cast you'd expect nothing less. If you see Horrible Bosses, chances are pretty good that you'll laugh, but I'd wager the chances are equally good that you'll forget the film completely not too long after.

The premise of Horrible Bosses is simple, relatively speaking. Three friends - Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) - hate their bosses - Harken (Kevin Spacey), Julia (Jennifer Aniston), and Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), respectively - and decide that working for them is so unbearable that the only solution is to kill them. Since they would be obvious suspects in the murders, they hire a hitman (Jamie Foxx) to take care of the job, but when the hitman has to back out of doing the deed himself, the three enter into a "strangers on a train" situation wherein each will kill the boss of one of the others.

A plan this well thought-out can't possibly go wrong, which is why it immediately starts to go very wrong. While on a recon mission at Bobby's house, Nick and Dale accidentally do some of Bobby's cocaine (long story), Kurt leaves DNA everywhere (disgusting story), and they steal Bobby's phone, an important plot point for later. The next task is to stake out Harken's house, which ends with Harken going into anaphylactic shock after accidentally coming into contact with peanuts, and Dale saving him even though that's entirely contrary to the whole plan. The episode does, however, give the trio an idea: instead of murdering their bosses in an obvious way, they can arrange for "accidents" to befall them which will not arouse the suspicion of authorities. The new version of the plan is just as flawed as the original, however, and it isn't long before the trio finds themselves facing down the police in an interrogation room.

The problem with Horrible Bosses, first and foremost, is that it is never quite as daring or bold as its premise. At no point do you actually believe that the three protagonists will actually kill their bosses so the third act resolution plays like the proverbial get out of jail free card. The bigger problem is the film's undercurrent of nastiness. One rape joke indicates laziness on the part of the writers; multiple rape jokes are indicative of a complex. When you consider the film in context with the many, many articles that have been published in the last couple of years about how the economic collapse has taken its toll on the sense of masculinity of working men (specifically white men), and a discourse in which the word rape is often used hyperbolically (as in, "the recession is raping men of their pride"), Horrible Bosses, with its three white male protagonists and their preoccupation with sexual violation, starts to seem a bit like an empowerment film for the least disenfranshied group in the world.

All that being said, the thematic issues at play in Horrible Bosses could be overcome if the film was funny enough, but it's not. This is a wildly uneven film that can't focus long enough to actually build the necessary comic energy. There are funny moments and the performances by the three leads are solid enough, but the film just doesn't really hang together.

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