Title: Horrible Bosses
Year: 2011
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Play time: 
Director: Seth Gordon
Screenwriters: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley
Starring: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis

Horrible Bosses works because it is monomaniacal. Today’s popular comedies, especially the R-rated variety, tend to ignore the value of this, piling on subplots, digressions, and long scenes of funny people ad libbing and otherwise dicking around. The three protagonists in Seth Gordon’s follow-up to the dreadful Four Christmases know what they want — to kill the bosses who are making their lives miserable — and will go to absurd lengths to get it. The movie is similarly obsessed, with every scene and joke striving toward the same end. This sort of airtight focus on plot can be deadly in some circumstances; I am forever complaining about movies that never give their characters a chance to “breathe.” But it is the lifeblood of farce.

The other reason Horrible Bosses works is the ultra-specific performances that Gordon extracts from his brilliant cast. It’s rare that the heroes and villains in a movie like this are evenly matched, but here they are: each of the six principals brings something valuable to the table. As corporate ladder-climber Nick, Jason Bateman brings his usual nervous energy and tentative, ever-so-slightly condescending delivery; as sexually-harassed dental assistant Dale, Charlie Day finds just the right note of manic insecurity, teetering on the verge of annoying but ending up on the right side of it; Jason Sudeikis, as the cheerfully womanizing accountant Kurt, may have the most generic role, but fills it with confidence and personality. As their respective tormentors, Kevin Spacey (sniveling, petty, mean), Jennifer Aniston (raunchy, vulgar, relentless), and Colin Farrell (deluded, douchey, paranoid), have more fun than seems advisable. All six actors are constantly interesting; with Bateman’s singular line readings, Aniston’s palpable joy in playing against type, Spacey’s black-hearted nastiness, etc., there’s a reason to relish every frame.

You may feel a slight initial resistance to the concept: our heroes are awfully cavalier about deciding to commit triple homicide. But this soon evaporates, because Horrible Bosses doesn’t wring its hands — it immediately commits, and proceeds to spin out its concept to its logical conclusion. Nick, Dale and Kurt go intel-gathering; unsuccessfully seek a hitman on Craigslist (leading to a beautifully bizarre cameo by Ioan Gruffud); end up retaining a “murder consultant” named Motherfucker Jones (leading to priceless lines like “What is your projected outside date of completion, Motherfucker?”); then decide to trade murders, Strangers on a Train-style.

Things get even stranger in ways I don’t want to ruin. The movie never goes on autopilot, rarely repeats itself, and doesn’t waste time with romantic subplots or quirky, schticky supporting characters. (Jaime Foxx as Motherfucker Jones is the closest, but each time he appears, he serves a purpose and gets out of the way.) It’s not a “vehicle” for anyone. It promises a comedy about three guys who set out to kill their bosses, and it delivers on that promise, fully and completely, with gusto.

As a corollary, the characters don’t really have personal lives, never mind inner lives, and the film isn’t much for subtext. (What I thought might be commentary on workplace desperation proves to have been an illusion when the movie leaves the workplace and doesn’t really return.) But who cares? Horrible Bosses is funny; really, consistently funny, with a first-class ear for non sequitur, a fast pace (every movie like this should aim to trim down to 98 minutes), and a half dozen of the year’s best comic performances. It’s the R-rated summer comedy you are looking for.

Eugene Novikov

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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