Mark Reviews Movies

Horrible Bosses


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 7/8/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 7, 2011

The success of Horrible Bosses depends on two things: That we despise the titular employers and that we sympathize to some extent with the disgruntled employees. If either one of those requirement fails, we're left with the terribly uncomfortable situation of watching a trio of psychotic men premeditate triple murder for laughs. The screenplay by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein goes about the expected route in regards to the protagonists' superiors, etching three separate portraits of bosses whose very existences seem to fly in the face of the basic decency of humanity (not to mention a responsible human resources department), but it's in the central characters' actions that the film truly finds its edge.

They are anti-heroes, not because they make a pact to mimic the plot of Strangers on a Train (plus one crisscross) to kill the supervisor of the other in an attempt to eliminate obvious motive from themselves, but because they are entirely incompetent from the moment they hypothesize such a plan could work. They are less individual characters than a collective of ineptitude. It lets us off the hook, since there is no shadow of a doubt that they will be incapable to accomplish their mission, let alone their lack of the twisted personality necessary to actually murder another human being in cold blood.

In descending order of incompetence and the horridness of his boss, there is Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), a permanent up-and-comer at an office building where work is done and people have titles but that is the full extent of understanding. He has given up a personal life to be the first one to enter and the last one to leave the building, in spite of or because of the fact that his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, playing it as cold as they come) makes his life a living hell. Harken crosses the line when he promotes himself to a vice president position for which Nick had been enduring Harken's professional torture.

Next is Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), who's happy at his job because his own boss (Donald Sutherland as the wise mentor—one guess what happens to his character) cares about his workers and properly disposing of hazardous materials. His boss' son Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell, sporting a ridiculous comb-over and possessing an equally absurd amount of button-down shirts with the image of a dragon sewn on the back), who soon takes over the business, is another story—a cocaine-snorting, discriminatory, sexist pig who doesn't care about the result of dumping harmful substances in populated areas as long as he can make a profit and take the extra cash to retire to a sunny beach.

Finally, there's Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), a dental assistant with a loving fiancée (Lindsay Sloane) and the misfortune of being a registered sex offender after urinating at an empty playground after a drunken night at the bar. The dentist for whom he works Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston, with a filthy mouth and even filthier delivery) wants badly to have sex with Dale and is even willing to blackmail him with suggestive pictures she took of him while he was receiving dental work.

It starts with the shared admission that each has fantasized about killing his boss and turns into a night of scheming fueled by alcohol. Dale most enthusiastically takes to the idea, searching online personal ads for code words that he believes mean "hired killer" but that end up signifying something else entirely (Ioan Gruffudd appears as a man who specializes in "wetwork," which is a term quite apt for the service he provides). Eventually, after Kurt almost causes a riot based on his faulty assumption that a bar of African-Amercans will take kindly to his questioning if anyone there is a murderer-for-hire, they pay Dean "MF" Jones (Jamie Foxx) as a "consultant" (Yes, the "MF" stands for what one would think it would stand for, and he has a story behind it that is amusing in its misleading structure).

What follows are a lot of fine ideas for planning a murder to make it look like an accident and the terrible execution of them. A search through Pellit's house results in an unintentional eruption of cocaine and Kurt leaving behind evidence just so he can perform a childish prank. Dale saves the life of one of their intended victims, and Nick has a crisis of conscience just before the point of no return. There's a moment when one-third of the plan comes together through the trio's indirect and clumsy influence that turns the entire plot on its head, leaving them scrambling to clear themselves of involvement in something they didn't do.

That reinvention of circumstances gives Horrible Bosses a significant push. Finally, we have a reason to sympathize in some small way with its troubled trio, and the film's teetering balancing act finds its equilibrium.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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