(Seth Gordon, 2011, USA)
Labouring under a title as self-explanatory as it is unexciting, Horrible Bosses boasts a stellar cast and a simple enough premise; three workaday stooges decide to bump off their respective and, you guessed it, horrible bosses, but in its attempts to mesh the tropes of the buddy movie genre with the darkness of its narrative macguffin, Seth Gordon’s second ensemble comedy ultimately buckles under the weight of its numerous plot contrivances, which ground the film outside the borders of a realism Gordon is seemingly trying to convey.
Playing the three protagonists, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, all US sitcom stalwarts, are by trade competent with the inconsistent material and manage to avoid being spread thin by the broad spectrum of comedy styles, which range from macho camaraderie, crass innuendo and overblown slapstick, but they are undercut by the three other, more competent, actors playing their larger than life employers, who steal the limelight despite fairly limited screen time. Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey all bring the appropriate amount of relish to their frankly larger than life roles, the latter clearly having the most fun with the malicious material before descending quite rapidly into extraordinary caricature, and are responsible for lifting the film from forgettable to occasionally quite watchable. The film works whenever they are on screen, which renders the tonal shifts between them and the trials faced by Bateman et al lacking subtlety.
It has to be said that despite her diminishing returns on screen post-Friends, evidenced in disastrous romantic comedies like Marley and Me (2008) and The Bounty Hunter (2010), Aniston here throws out her sappy, girl-next-door persona and delivers the best element in Horrible Bosses, playing a vulgar, inappropriate dentist prone to sexually molesting her unconscious clients. Her character spouts the best lines, and she delivers them with a bawdy concoction of spice and malevolence, outlining a clearly conflicted woman whose prominence as the central villain would have been far more appropriate. It would have given Day’s livewire pipsqueak Dale something to do other than running into doors and bungling through his erratic dialogue.
Without its functional elements, Horrible Bosses all to easily falls back on its misogynistic and by-numbers jokes shared by the Apatow/Hangover-inspired leads whose characters insult first and cajole later, rarely escaping the confines of their dwindling morals and sparse intellectual capacities. It is the type of comedy where anything bad that can happen, happens, and leaves its storyline in the hands of its many plot devices and outlandish conveniences.