With a cast of veterans and a great script, there was some expectation that Horrible Bosses would break out of the stale Hollywood comedy mould. It didn’t, but that’s alright – this is still an all-round great movie. (7/10)
Jason Bateman is probably the only reason why this movie even appeared on my radar. I’m a big fan of his work in Arrested Development, though, given how widely ignored the show was during its run, it’s hardly surprising that his acting career never really took off. His role here will feel very familiar to any Arrested Development fan; Bateman returns as Michael Bluth-esque character: a straight man surrounded by the stupid and marginally insane. I recognized Jason Sudeikis from 30 Rock and Charlie Day from absolutely nowhere (He’s famous for his work in ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’, but I’ve never seen it (I should)). As in any comedy movie these days, the plot is really just an excuse to make the characters crazy and ‘Horrible Bosses’ is no exception. However, what the plot lacked, the casting made up for. Bateman and Sudeikis have a great on screen chemistry and even better comic timing while Day brings in a more physical kind of humour to the movie.
There are a lot of snobs (I think) out there (wherever ‘there’ is) who look down on physical humour as childish and immature and I would usually agree to some degree. However, when used at the right times and in the right amounts, physical humour remains the most direct route to our funny bones. I’m assuming that the logic behind this is that slapstick comedy doesn’t really require any level of mental processing to be understood and thus triggers a more direct response from us. The reason Day’s goofy, ‘hamster’-like (the movie’s words, not mine (well also mine)) behaviour and humour work so well here is because it helps keep up the general laughter levels (yes, I’m aware that that’s not an actual term, sue me). What I’m trying to say is that Day is capable of delivering the funny even when there’s no dialogue and when there’s really nothing all that funny going on. He brings a certain amount of energy to a cast that is otherwise very sanguine; Bateman and Sudeikis both play characters that are relatively calm and quiet and as such contrast well with Dale’s hysteria. Having said that, his particular brand of squealing and screaming (squeaming?) got on my nerves on more than one occasion. I find it more than a little strange that Sudeikis is given the role of the ladies’ man. I’m not saying that it’s an absurd idea, but it’s just that I don’t see it. It’s not that he’s not reasonably attractive either, or maybe he has an appeal to women that I can’t perceive, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea of Sudeikis as a playa. I don’t know if this makes sense to you, but he looks like too much of a nice guy to play a character that uses cheesy pick-up lines and manages to make them work. Or maybe that’s what he wants us to think while he gets all the ladies, the sneaky bastard. Bateman’s character here is essentially a continuation of Michael Bluth. He has the same sarcasm and those same looks of ‘I’m so shocked by your stupidity that my brain has temporarily decided it no longer wishes to communicate with my mouth, thus preventing me from expressing my extreme disappointment in your intelligence’. I am now having difficulty imagining Bateman in any other role though it’s possible that I’m projecting the Michael Bluth character onto Bateman’s character here (but I doubt it).
One relatively minor piece of criticism I have is that the characters play too close to comedy archetypes – Bateman (as usual) plays the ‘Straight Man’, Sudeikis plays the ‘Casanova’ (I still don’t think he’s suited to it though) and Day plays the ‘Goof’ or even the ‘Simple-minded idiot’.
I don’t have a problem with these character types, but I would very much prefer to see them mixed up with something else. The difficulty is that these characterizations have been around for so long that it becomes hard to come up with something that hasn’t already been tried. Even if you take the gamble and create something rare or even unique, there’s no knowing whether it’ll pay off. As such, I can’t blame the movie for going with the characterizations that they did because there was clearly a very uncertain possibility of a reward even if they did get it right and large possibility that they wouldn’t. I also helps that the cast fits those characters so well (though I’m not really sure which came first, Cast or Script. Entourage would lead me to believe there is no set order to these things) except Sudeikis. My theory on how Sudeikis landed the ‘Casanova’ role? They needed to…er… finish off Jennifer Aniston’s character and it couldn’t be Day for plot reasons and Bateman would arguably make an even worse Playboy than Sudeikis. So they asked Sudeikis, who hasn’t had a good movie since forever, whether he wanted the part. Being desperate but also rather confident in his acting chops, Sudeikis accepted this challenge. While it’s fun to ponder what the fuck the casting director was thinking, the point is moot – in the end we were left with three effective if unimaginative protagonists facing off against three much more interesting (and attractive) antagonists. Kevin Spacey, as expected, turns in a great performance as Harken. Spacey was able to mix Harken’s rampant psychosis with just enough mean-spirited bullying to make him seem a legitimate boss-from-hell, as opposed to Farrell’s over the top lunatic. That’s in no way a criticism of Colin Farrell; I really enjoyed his performance as the doped-out-of-his-mind-but-possibly-born-that-way-to-begin-with Bobby Pellitt. I’m generally a fan of Colin Farrell’s, because he has a certain onscreen charm (it’s the lack of this very quality that makes Sudeikis such a poor choice as a player). I was disappointed that Farrell’s character didn’t last very long; while he wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, his character was sufficiently over the top that he was just pure fun; Spacey’s character’s dickery was just a touch too realistic for me enjoy fully. It’s also a little disappointing that there wasn’t more interplay between the bosses themselves. Maybe they could have all been revealed to know each other in the end or something (since we’re already dealing with Coked up bosses, we may as well fuck being realistic and put it in the streets without cab money), or maybe they could have known each other and conspired to counter the moves of their employees (as opposed to firing them? Yes, it’s a terrible idea, shut up).
My point is that a little more interaction between the antagonists could have worked out well. What’s that? What about Jennifer Aniston’s character? Well, as far as I’m concerned, you could have hired any dime-piece Hollywood bombshell off the streets and she would have done equally well. Or you could use Aniston; they’re basically the same thing nowadays anyway. Look, I know that Aniston is a capable actress and I know she can be funny (believe it or not, I’ve watched Friends), but it’s just that here, all her jokes and humour are sexual. I don’t have a problem with sexual humour per se, but I have to question hiring a clearly aging actress (though I agree she’s still got it) when really all you need is a hot lady in a dentist’s costume. I guess brand name had something to do with it, but I was just disappointed that Aniston didn’t get a chance to actually be funny and strut her stuff (yeah) but instead was given a job that really, any dime-a-dozen Hollywood wannabe could have done. On a more plot related note, I felt that the individual bosses got too little screen time, the exception being Harken who remained a major character right till the end. Aniston’s character just became a distraction (though a welcome one) after her introductory phase and Farrell’s character died too soon. On the plus side, I thought the introduction to the movie, where we get to witness what assholes the bosses are was brilliant. It was long enough to give us exactly the amount of information we needed about the plot set-up and gave us a great introduction to our three lovable losers and their situations.
I was a little disappointed with the script itself, though. Don’t get me wrong, the dialogue isn’t awful (far from it), but since the audience is coming into the theatre expecting to laugh, the dialogue comes under a lot more scrutiny than it would in most other movies. There were some fundamental problems with the humour in the movie – for one, I got the feeling that most of the swearing in the movie was put in either for shock value (which would be rather pointless in today’s society) or just for the hell of it (which is unconditionally pointless by definition). Sometimes, it worked – like in the case of ‘Motherfucker’ Jones. But for the rest of the time, the swearing didn’t feel organic – a lot of it felt like it had been worked into the movie for the sake of appearances. I think some part of it has to do with the fact that the cast is so old; but despite that these guys came across as high-school kids but with jobs, guns and cocaine. Or maybe it was funny to everyone except me (in which case, carry on as per normal).
Horrible Bosses is actually a solid comedy that’s worth your DVD allowance – not quite a classic, but certainly good for an afternoon’s entertainment. Don’t come in expecting too much and you won’t leave disappointed unless you, like me, expected more from this particular cast.
Jason Bateman – Nick Hendricks
Charlie Day – Dale Arbus
Jason Sudeikis – Kurt Buckman
Kevin Spacey – Dave Harken
Jennifer Aniston – Julia Harris
Colin Farrell – Bobby Pellit
Jamie Foxx – Motherfucker Jones
Rotten Tomatoes – 69%
Metacritic – 57