Horrible Bosses (United States, 2011)
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Story by: Michael Markowitz
Written by: Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis
What would Office Space have been like if, instead of financially ripping off their “unholy disgusting pig of a boss”, the three under-appreciated office workers plotted to murder him instead? It might seem like laughs would be harder to come by when dealing with murder and not the comparatively harmless crime of embezzlement, but Horrible Bosses proves that devising a triple homicide can be fun after all.
Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) is a late-30s middle-management type who has spent eight years busting his hump to impress his callous and narcissistic boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) in the hope of winning the promotion he’s been promised for far too long. When Nick discovers that the promotion was merely a carrot dangled in front of him to improve his work performance, he vents his anger at a bar to his high school buddies, who are also having boss issues: the dental assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) is constantly being sexually preyed upon by his dentist boss Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) is an accounts manager at a family-run chemical company whose patriarch has just died, leaving his coke-addicted, disinterested son Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrel) in charge.
After one too many drinks the suggestion comes up that killing their bosses would solve all their woes, and after the cursory amount of indecision required to make their characters not totally despicable, a plan is devised. The high school friends in their 30s devise a crazy scheme to solve their problems while drunk trope has seen some action in the last five years, with extremely mixed results, but Horrible Bosses is at least partially successfully in that it is very often funny. Like the I.T. schmucks in Office Space, most of the laughs come as a result of the main trio’s sheer ineptitude and unsuitability for the task they’ve assigned themselves, but it must be said that almost all of the roles are perfectly cast, giving this ultimately ridiculous situation some legitimacy through quality acting.
Jamie Foxx is marvellous as the “murder consultant” hired to help Nick, Dale and Kurt through their unfamiliar situation, and familiar faces such as Donald Sutherland, Wendell Pierce, John Francis Daly, Julie Bowen and even Bob Newhart pepper the lesser roles ensuring that even if you don’t particularly go with the film, you’re at least treated to a lovely game of spot-the-star. Dave Harken’s snaky executive is a role tailor-made for the joyfully devious Spacey, and Aniston is finally given a role that suits her previously under-utilised comic chops.
On the other hand, Charlie Day screeches and squeals his way to utter annoyance in the designated wacky-friend role, and Farrell is sickeningly unlikeable as the playboy who inherits a company he only saw as a bottomless ATM. Thankfully he is only on screen for about 10 minutes, but Day manages to get more and more annoying as the film marches on.
I was also surprised to read in the credits that Steve Wiebe even has a small role. Wiebe, you may remember, is a Donkey Kong world champion and the subject of director Seth Gordon’s first film, the terrifically entertaining documentary The King of Kong. Since making that wonderful film Gordon has guest-directed a number of episodes of highly regarded TV sitcoms (The Office, Modern Family, and others) and that influence is felt in Horrible Bosses’s modest direction. The formula is pretty simple: get a rock-solid ensemble cast, give them some excuse to be funny, and let them rip.
It’s funny, but ultimately not totally memorable.