Three employees tortured by their bosses decide to Strangers on a Train their problems away in Horrible Bosses, a middling example of shocking (!) rated-R comedy.
Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) works for crazed tyrant Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) but puts up with his constant evil because he believes he’s in line for a promotion. Then Dave announces that he’s taking the job and annexing the office space to his own (though only 80 percent of the pay, because he’s willing to sacrifice) and Nick realizes he’s stuck working for this nutjob with no chance of advancement.
Dale (Charlie Day) is a mild-mannered dental hygienist whose greatest joy is his new engagement to Stacy (Lindsay Sloane). His greatest torment is his boss, the randy dentist Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Because of a police record (he urinated in a playground at night and even though no kids were around he’s now on the sex offender registry), the frightening Julia is the only person who will hire Dale but she is constantly coming on to him. He doesn’t want to give in to her because of his love for Stacy, but now Julia’s threatening to tell Stacy they’re having an affair anyway.
Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) works at a chemical company where he’s loved by his boss, owner Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland). Jack says some day Kurt will run the place. Unfortunately, before that day comes, Jack has a heart attack and dies, leaving his son Bobby (Colin Farrell) in charge of the place. Bobby is a cokehead whose plan is to wring the company dry so he has money for strip clubs, cocaine and eventually retirement to an island somewhere.
Talking over their problems, the men consider quitting, but a brief conversation with the long-out-of-work Kenny (P.J. Byrne) convinces them that if they leave these jobs, they may not get others.
So, naturally, murder.
At first they try to hire a hit man, but Craigslist fails them and attempts to find one at a local bar are also unsuccessful. Then they meet a character whose last name is Jones (Jamie Foxx) and whose nickname name is excellent but unprintable. He offers to be not their hit man but their “murder consultant.” Kill each other’s bosses, he suggests. This is a ridiculous idea, particularly considering the dimwittedness of the guys, but they decide to give it a shot.
Horrible Bosses seems like it should live in a darker, edgier part of the Office Space universe — one where recognizable workplace annoyances are taken to their ridiculous extremes. Instead, the story starts and remains in the wacky-movie universe, where nobody acts or thinks in a way that resembles anything like how normal people act or think. Despite all the naughtiness the movie tries to hard to cram in to the story (Cocaine! Strippers! Hired killers! Sexually aggressive Jennifer Aniston!), this unreality makes it all a little less edgy. We’re already in a crazy universe, so the escalation of crazy isn’t shocking. The closest we get to a “real” boss character is possibly Spacey’s Dave Harken, but even he is too Spacey, too much of a riff on Spacey’s horrible boss character from Swimming with Sharks. That movie also went to a crazy place but it was grounded in reality, which made it seem all the darker and crazier. Horrible Bosses is cartoony in its lunacy from the beginning so it doesn’t connect with that nutty boss or impossible work situation you had in real life and therefore loses a lot of its punch.
That said, Horrible Bosses, for a cartoony comedy, has its moments. Bateman is so good at playing the mild-mannered put-upon guy. His reactions to the crazy around him, oftentimes with just a look and an under-the- voice “what did he just say,” are funny. Day here is not the hurricane of frustration and screwiness he is on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia but he is still entertainingly manic. Aniston seems to be having a blast playing the villain — she seems to be at her best when playing against the romantic-comedy-heroine early movies tried to turn her into.
Horrible Bosses is forgettable but entertaining, a perfectly fine rental for some future Thursday night. C+
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material. Directed by Seth Gordon and written by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, Horrible Bosses is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed by New Line Cinema.