When King of Kong director Seth Gordon discovered hot-sauce salesman/arcade cabinet megastar Billy Mitchell, he revealed to the world one of the greatest comedy villains of all time. Certainly, a bit of editing and squaring him against all-round super nice guy Steve Wiebe (who incidentally cameos here) embellished his Grinchiness, but in true ‘stranger than fiction’ fashion, you really couldn’t invent a better antagonist. And Horrible Bosses proves it.
Our three leads are your typical average joes and best buds for life who meet in a bar every night to drink brewskis and shoot the shit about how work sucks and just y’know hang out and stuff. Jason Bateman plays ‘the Jason Bateman role’ i.e. boring everyman with a bit of a nasty streak, Jason Sudiekis plays the (only in the movies) ‘ladies man’, and Charlie Day plays the ‘Zach Galifianakis was busy role’. It’s perhaps just as well for Day, as he’s the only one of the principals to leave much of an impact.
Each of them have problems with their superiors, be they mean, sex-obsessed, or incompetent, and so they decide, with disturbingly little encouragement, to bump them off. Yes, they’re all arseholes to an extent, making the lives of their employees miserable in different ways, but it’s hard to know who to root for when our three ‘heroes’ are themselves pretty horrible people. Kevin Spacey plays Buddy Ackerman from Swimming with Sharks (again), Jennifer Aniston plays the ‘horny dentist/teacher/best friend’s mom/etc role’, and Colin Farrell plays, as the posters call him, a “total sleazy tool”.
Thing is, Colin Farrell is peculiarly the most sympathetic of the six goodies/baddies. His actions can largely be attributed to his coke addiction, fuelled by his boss/father’s disappointment in him, who has instead effectively adopted the Sudiekis character as his heir to be. So when his father dies (what is it with Donald Sutherland recent run of popping up at the start of films only to be killed off shortly after?) and he becomes the boss, he embarks on a self-destructive course of revenge and greed to run his father’s company into the ground. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy, albeit focused on someone with a penchant for gaudy Oriental paraphernalia. And at least he isn’t trying to kill anyone. Strange too that he’s branded the sleazy one when it’s Sudiekis who spends the entire film acting like a creepy sex-pest, hitting on every skirt that comes his way and, unbelievably, scoring as much as James Bond manages in a typical 007 outing.
As with most modern American comedies, what follows eschews a tightly plotted narrative, witty zingy dialogue, or expertly played pratfalls in favour of CRAZY characters stumbling into CRAZY situations, followed by SHOUTING and SILLY VOICES. Plot holes and bizarre character motivations are par for the course (e.g. why all the recon missions and breaking into their bosses homes when they can get all their intel watching them at work?), so long as it gets you to an extended fit of everyone flapping their hands in panic, with much of it covered in the trailer anyway. In fact, the majority of the genuine laughs are courtesy of Jamie Foxx, with some perfect comic timing as their potential hitman for hire, and a few throwaway exchanges that hint at a smarter script lost amid the supposed big pay-offs and awkward race gags.
Beyond that, it’s fine forgettable fluff, buoyed along by the supporting cast and guest appearances, but for a film about plotting murder against your superiors, it’s strangely lightweight and inconsequential. For a darkly comic take on events spiralling out of control, there’s always Very Bad Things. For a work sucks/evil boss masterclass, there’s always Office Space. But if you are strangely desperate for a collection of disjointed mildly amusing set-pieces to pass the time, I guess there’s Horrible Bosses.