Running time: 98 mins
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis
It’s a title than those of us not blessed with family fortunes will have had some experience of over our lifetime and a premise that’s incredibly familiar and there in lies the main attraction for seeing a film called Horrible Bosses.
Seth Gordon’s previous festive offering Four Christmases was neither as funny, warm or lovable as all on screen thought they were being (with the exception of Robert Duvall who is by law always brilliant in everything). In his latest offering he teams up not just with a mix of established and rising talent but with the hugely talented writer Michael Markowitz who’s name might not ring massive bells with you but hopefully his excellent work on Duckman will. The plot is a relatively simple one, three friends all hate their bosses and one day decide that their lives and the lives of those around them would be a lot better if these bosses no longer drew breath. With their decision made they set out to find a hitman to do the trio of dirty deeds for them and this is where, obviously, it all begins to go a little wrong but with comedic consequences.
The fact that the plot is a watered down version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train will not be lost on anyone who’s ever watched the wonderful Farley Granger in action, it wasn’t lost on Markowitz as he makes reference to this fact in the friends scene with their newly acquired “murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx. It’ll even bring a wry smile to the children of the eighties who might have (criminally) not seen the Hitchcock classic but have viewed the Danny DeVito/Billy Crystal comedy of the same theme Throw Mama From the Train as this too is also highlighted showing exactly where Markowitz’s comedy allegiances lie. The script is solid enough, though not of the quality of Duckman, and it offers mountains of enjoyable, laughable and quotable moments though with comedy talents like Sudeikis and Bateman it’s difficult to say what’s scripted and what’s made it out of the improv sessions that comedy films traditionally boast. Case in point would be cocaine scene during the breaking and entering of Bobby Pellitt’s (Colin Farrell) condo. Like comedies that precede it, namely the brilliantly timed Annie Hall, drugs equals accidents and like it’s comparisons to Hitchcock and DeVito films Horrible Bosses runs a parallel with Allen but it seems to be that Markowitz sets up these slightly familiar scenarios in order to showcase not just the quality of his writing but the quality of the performers inhabiting his writing. Bateman (Nick) is usually dry, he’s always been the dry comic and it works wonderfully for him. He was amazing in Arrested Development and has honed his style ever since so it’s always enjoyable to see him push the margins of his comedy characters for the sake of a laugh. The way in which he plays off Charlie Day (Dale) and likewise Day off Bateman is a gentle giggle that builds to a proper belly laugh culminating with Day’s announcement of physical exercise.
Gordon’s direction can’t really be delved into too deeply. Comedy is not known for it’s amazing cinematography or amazing camera style or movement, the credit of any good director of a comedy is knowing when to get the shot that you need and when to loosen the leash and let the comedy talent explore their own ground in the hope of what they discover is funny and ends up in the finished product. This is what Gordon does to great results in several scenes throughout the film including the coke scene but also their first encounter with old school friend Kenny (P.J. Byrne) and the “wet work” motel scene to name but a few.
Jason Bateman’s performance is solid and dependable but comes up a little short, he’s such an excellent comedy talent and in being so your expectations of him are so much higher but what he delivers instead in a third gear display though he does bring the best out of those around him. His relationship with Charlie Day is grounded in an understanding of each others timings and strengths and Kevin Spacey (as his boss Dave Harken) is clearly enjoying his opportunity to cut loose from his theatrical responsibilities and explore the outer boundaries of his comedic/psychopathic tendencies. It is a case of dry and drier and it works perfectly. Jennifer Aniston (Julia Harris aka Dale’s boss) is the best she’s been since The Good Girl though for a completely different reason. Since the early nineties her name, face and look has been so closely linked to Rachel Green (Friends) now with the show only living in re-run land she’s had relative success in similar roles. This, however, could be the change that opens a few more doors for her. As Julia she is everything that Rachel is not, she’s a sex crazed, foul mouthed, slightly mentally unhinged sociopath disguised as a professional, upstanding individual. There are a handful of scenes that showcase what lies beneath in Jennifer, all of which are wonderfully awkward and funny. Whether it’s the hosing down of Dale, iPad-gate or the scene in which she locks him in her office wearing nothing but her lab coat and a pair of pants it all screams that Rachel is dead and this actor doesn’t mind taking liberties with the constructed persona she’s had for almost twenty years.
Sudeikis and Day are relatively new faces to
shores with Sudeikis being the best thing about the Farley brothers’ UK Day starts off as nothing particularly special but when you apply sexual advances, tension and threats the result is a bizarre and wonderful transformation that has more than a passing resemblance to Bobcat Goldthwait mixed with Stressed Eric which is probably the most original acting decision since Marlon Brando decided to play his role in Superman as a “green suitcase”. Sudeikis (Kurt), unfortunately, doesn’t take this opportunity to showcase his ability. His style is a lot more relaxed and as such disappears at time when he should be bringing all he’s got. In a lot of ways he’s like Hall Pass. Chevy Chase in that his deliver is so natural and unshowy but it leaves you seeing his performance as a mixed opportunity.
There are other issues with the film, Colin Farrell (as Bobby Pellitt aka Kurt’s boss) is wasted. His best moments are in the trailer and it’s only really in the comedy tradition of the ‘End credits blooper and improv reel’ do we really get to see how truly funny he can be. This is an absolute shame, where Spacey and Aniston are given multiple scenes to showcase their comedy timings Farrell is almost sacrificed for the sake of a film under one hundred minutes and we’re left wondering how much better and funnier the film could have been if we were given the chance to see him roam through his comedic plains. Similarly the narrative is sacrificed, on occasion, to showcase the funny (which isn’t too much of an issue as we know the narrative already) but unfortunately it’s solidly predictable and you’re left wandering through the last couple of scenes waiting for the action to catch up with you at the finishing line.
Like most R rated comedies at the moment what you end up having is a collection of strong set pieces that when collected and assembled aren’t worth more than the sum of their parts. Horrible Bosses will entertain you for the ninety eight minutes that you sit in front of it but you will be left wondering what could have happened if those performers who held back from blossoming hadn’t done so and if those starved of light had been given their moment in the sun.