Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

Sitcom director Seth Gordon takes aim at the big screen (hoping everyone has forgotten his 2008 horror show Four Christmases) with a black comedy featuring an array of megastars in delightfully nasty roles. Coming on like a spiritual sequel to Mike Judge's sleeper hit Office Space, the film takes a fantasy we'll all have had - offing the boss - and spins a farcically convoluted tale of dubious morality. To its credit, the film doesn't pander to the current vogue for Judd Apatow-esque gross-out antics, but it's not as funny as any of that illustrious laugh-merchant's movies either.

Nick Hendricks is first in line for a lucrative promotion at his office, shamelessly brown-nosing his otherwise despicable boss in order to secure it. His friend Dale is an assistant to a sultry but sex-crazed dentist, whose constant advances threaten to jeopardize his relationship. Next to them, Kurt seems to have it made, enjoying a paternal relationship with the head of his company that will surely see him take the old man's place one day. Unforeseen tragedy sees his boss's coke-addled, sleazeball son take the reins, making life a misery for his second-in-command as he is delegated sacking duty for half of his colleagues. While drowning their sorrows, the frustrated trio hatch an imaginary plan to do away with their superiors. The sage advice of an enigmatic hit-man soon sees speculation turn to action, and our hapless heroes find themselves in over their heads in a murder plot spiraling out of their control.

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There's a wicked premise behind this high concept comedy, and the actors would be more than up to doing it justice if they had a better script to work with. There are some absurdly amusing situations, but the dialogue never quite tickles the funny bone as much as it should. Jason Bateman is as empathetic and agreeably flustered as ever; he has this schtick down pat, but he's no less enjoyable for playing a character we've seen him embody countless times before. Charlie Day is lovably gormless, mixing slacker amiability with pent-up little-man aggression to steal scenes from his more established co-stars. Jason Sudeikis is a somewhat boorish and unnecessary third wheel, never getting quite as amusingly anxious as the other two and seeming to just coast by on laddish bravado.

It's a shame Colin Farrell isn't very effective either, as it means his scenes with the unsympathetic Sudeikis are doubly under-whelming. Farrell is just woefully miscast; too pretty to pull off his make-under and too tic-heavy to be convincing as a substance-abuser (surely his well-documented private revels should have made him a natural in this role?), he's also given the nastiest character in the film, and fails to nail the depths of bigotry and ignorance needed to make the part anything more than a grotesque caricature. It's just as well then that Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston are both outstanding; the former takes a routine he's perfected in the past ad turns it up to ten, oozing slimy disdain and despicable self-assurance in every scene. The latter is an absolute revelation, burning up the screen in her sleaziest and possibly funniest performance to date. She wouldn't be able to pull it off if she didn't look so gob-smackingly gorgeous: transcending the 'cougar' cliche, she makes the most of every lascivious detail and veiled threat, trumping Demi Moore's turn in Disclosure and revealing herself as a fearless modern comedienne.

What really makes the Bateman / Spacey and Day / Aniston segments work is that each of the characters is flawed and ultimately human; the script doesn't shy away from making you feel disgusted at the heroes' behaviour, and you even end up feeling a little sorry for their enemies. Things get a bit too messy towards the end, with all the amoral violence and sex making the comedy a little heavy-handed, while Aniston unfortunately gets pretty much sidelined in favor of a ridiculously over-boiled climax. But if you disengage your brain and curb your critical faculties, there's plenty to enjoy here, not least cameos from Donald Sutherland and a deliciously self-deprecating Jamie Foxx. It's just a shame the five-star ingredients don't add up to more than a 3-star whole.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2011
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Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize they are standing in the way of their happiness.
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Stephen Carty ***

Director: Seth Gordon

Writer: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein

Starring: Jason Bateman, P.J. Byrne, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston

Year: 2011

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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