It’s the casting that makes this film work as well as it does.
The whole premise and script is not particularly clever or insightful. Horrible Bosses is basically a remake of 9 to 5, but without an annoying Dolly Parton song. There could have been so many ways that it could have gone wrong. But strangely, the chemistry the cast creates and the unwavering determination the antagonists have to be the most terrifying people imaginable makes Horrible Bosses a genuinely funny comedy.
That is something very rare this season, in which something like Bad Teacher is seen as a passable comedy.
You probably already know what happens – the trailer gave most of it away. To recap: three men, Dale (Charlie Day), Nick (Jason Bateman) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are all miserable. Their bosses, losers all, have been making their lives miserable. Harkin (Kevin Spacey) has been toying with Nick with promises of a promotion. Pellitt, who has recently taken over a chemical company from his father (I dare not say who play him) is a horribly incompetent womanizer. And Julia (Jennifer Aniston) desperately wants to have sex with the recently engaged Dale. They make a pact to murder these individuals and hire a murder consultant named Jones (Jamie Foxx) to explain how to pull off the crime.
The first act is a wonderful set up to the whole premise, and works as a satire of the modern working America. For a decade, Office Space and The Office was seemingly reigned supreme is examining the ennui of the worker. But the latter’s Michael Scott has become the template that all of the other comedies follow. HOrrible Bosses takes it and runs with it, showing bosses who are unapologetically evil and employees who know what would happen to them if they dare to rebel. Murder almost becomes a logical conclusion in this situation.
That it why the film works – it becomes one of the great satires against this long going recession. There are many things about the film that feel like a farce. Spacey plays his character on a way which, in the hands of another actor, would be reduced to camp. He doesn’t act like a real person at all. But then, the whole situation becomes so unreal that their actions (even Jennifer Aniston’s sexual aggression) become coldly realistic.
There were many moments that I felt the movie threatened to go too far, it somehow managed to fall back on that strength. But that threat was present far more often than it should have been. Spacey’s character is such a lunatic that it is surprising he can even function. Harris’ obsession with Dale is never explained, and seems almost to exist just to keep the film going. Nevertheless, there are many who can perhaps relate to some of the experience that the characters go through in this film. Maybe they’ve even fantasized about hiring a hit man to do those people in.
The performances are all quite good, with one exception. Jason Bateman has always been able to play the frustrated every man, as he demonstrated in Arrested Development. Colin Farrell is not on screen for very long(unfortunately) but his few moments are memorable. Charlie Day is…well, Charlie Day is not bad, but he is probably the weakest in the film. He seems to be forever stuck on his character from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. This is not inherently bad (and still funny) but I was hoping to see him develop his range. But each of the actors, even Day, manage to give a sense of familiarity to the material. Despite how ridiculous it is, it becomes something that could actually happen when an office worker is pushed to far. They somehow retain their humanity, something that the characters in Office Space did not manage to do. They were caricature, which worked for that film, but would not have nearly done the job here. The screenwriters (who wrote firmly with the idea of goofy comedy) did not realize this. Luckily, the actors did, and create three-dimensional portraits of the people who inhabit this bizarre world.
Horrible Bosses is, so far, the only great summer comedy. It works because of its unflinching conviction the cast had with the material. A film called Horrible Bosses with a clearly derivative plot does not really have any right to be good. But it does have the right to be surprising. And that it is – one of the biggest surprises of this summer.