Director: Seth Gordon
Stars: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis
Plot: Three men hatch a plot to kill their manipulative bosses, but they soon realise that their plan is not going to be easy to accomplish.
Ensemble comedies are all the rage at the moment. Popular films such as The Hangover (I and II), Bridesmaids and The Inbetweeners Movie prove that these are a fertile ground for filmmakers as they throw together friends into an alien situation which are intended to result in ‘hilarious’ consequences. Hen and stag parties are the most obvious of these (drunken shenanigans are usually a winner), but to take this to another level and create a black comedy where killing a person (or three) is dealt in a lighthearted way, is quite a challenge.
Three friends have a problem – each of their bosses are horrible. Nick (Bateman) works in finance for his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) who is apparently a psycho, humiliating Nick whilst constantly dangling him on the end of a possible promotion that never comes. Dale (Day) is a dental assistant to Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) who is sexually harassing him on a daily basis. Kurt (Sudeikis), is an accountant who gets along with his boss Jack (Donald Sutherland) but when he suddenly dies Jack’s amoral, crackhead son Bobby (Colin Farrell) takes over the company. One night, they decide that something has to be done so that can lead fulfilling lives again – as they find themselves completely stuck in their respective situations, the only conclusion is to eliminate their superiors.
Firstly, they consult hitman Jones (Jamie Foxx), who says he can give them tips on how to execute their plan. He tells them to kill each other’s bosses to make them look like accidents, thereby eliminating each of them as suspects. They all help to do a reconnaissance of each of the targets’ houses to find clues as to how they can be eliminated, but find that as they increasingly meddle, the more obstacles to carrying out their plan appear. Not only that, the police are soon on their tail, becoming suspicious that something is afoot and it is up to Nick, Dale and Kurt to avoid their attentions whilst also coming to terms with the fact that Jones is not quite as knowledgeable about carrying out a ‘hit’ as he initially made out.
Horrible Bosses is not quite as clever or funny as it thinks it is. The premise for a black comedy is perfectly set up, but the actual run-in with each boss is hardly enough to warrant a plan to kill them, even if this is a comedy. The main problem is that the backstories are rather short – this is the point at which we should be laughing and groaning at how awful each boss is, but instead the tendency is to ponder: is that all? Sure, Spacey’s Dave and Farrell’s Bobby are repulsive enough, but Aniston’s usually-girl-next-door-does-sexist isn’t funny for the right reasons. If anything, male fans of our Rachel from Friends will see just that she’s a hot dentist and not much else.
On the other hand, Bateman, Day and Sudeikis make a decent comedy trio, but their hapless characters have been seen before on a much more emphatic level in The Hangover. Director Seth Gordon and screenwriters Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley have fashioned a modern take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train but without the menace which made that classic film so memorable. If such a task to is to be successful, the laughs would have to be taken out almost completely, as here it doesn’t sit particularly well as a black comedy. The best moments are therefore pretty standard, with only Sudeikis emerging with any real credit, although Colin Farrell does look rather fetching in his Les Grossman-style bald pate.
Horrible Bosses has sporadic moments that will make you chuckle, but it teeters too long on the border with silliness, that it just can’t resist the temptation to cross it too often, rather than stay on the right side of witty.