July 8, 2011



HORRIBLE BOSSESWatch It At Home:  Doesn’t Earn A Raise


A comedy can get away with not being very good as long as it’s funny, and HORRIBLE BOSSES delivers some laughs.  Most of those come from the chemistry between stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, and since the funniest bits come in riffs of casual dialogue, it’s hard to tell if they originated in the script by Michael Markowitz, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley or with the actors themselves.  (Daley, by the way, is himself better known as an actor, first as the younger brother in Freaks and Geeks and more recently as the unit’s shrink on Bones; he has a small role in the film.)  


 Horrible Bosses is fairly enjoyable to watch, even though it whiffs at a great opportunity.  If there’s one experience virtually every audience member has shared, it’s the plight of working for a petty tyrant, and a revenge comedy pitched to that particular woe, particularly in the current economic climate, could have been wonderful.  But that comedy probably would have teetered on the edge of real human pain and desperation, never Hollywood’s preferred territory; instead, we get just occasional hints of the movie that could have been.  Mostly that’s in the part of the movie that concerns evil boss Harken (Kevin Spacey) and his pathetic subordinate Nick (Bateman).  As fans of Swimming With Sharks know, there’s no one better at playing tyrannical than Spacey (Entourage‘s Ari could never have existed without Spacey’s performance), and Bateman is best when he’s allowing flickers of fury to show beneath his passive front.  The early scenes with the two of them, as Spacey sadistically tantalizes Bateman with a promotion he’ll never get, vibrate with real comic tension.


That’s not Bosses‘ chosen tone for the most part.  The second storyline has Sudeikis as Kurt, protege of a kindly mentor (Donald Sutherland) who is abruptly replaced by his son Pelliltt (Colin Farrell), a coke-snorting moron who wants to loot the company.  Farrell seems to be having a great time under the most make-up anyone’s worn since Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, but his character is more a pig than a despot, and not very intimidating.  The last story makes so little sense that the script has to contrive multiple contrivances for it even to exist:  Dale (Day) is a dental assistant sexually harassed by bombshell dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston)–the writers create one backstory for Dale to justify his not just quitting, another to explain why he’d be so offended and not delighted to have Jennifer Aniston throwing herself at him (he’s supposedly too much in love with his fiance, but she’s such a wan, occasional presence in the movie that this makes little sense), and they still never come up with a convincing reason why Aniston would be so obsessed with him in the first place.

In any case, their mutual misery causes the 3 guys to decide, with the minimal help of hit man “consultant” Jamie Foxx, to kill their bosses in a scrambled Stranger On A Train fashion, which of course they botch thoroughly.  It’s a set-up that just about screams for ingenious plotting, but the writers can come up with only one legitimate twist–the rest is lazy TV storytelling, dependent on coincidence and on characters acting like idiots.


And yet, Horrible Bosses is fairly consistently funny.  Sudeikis seems far more comfortable trading quips with Bateman and Day than he did with Owen Wilson in Hall Pass; Day, playing the stupidest character, gets a lot of laughs out of his inanity; and Bateman, the definition of a movie team player, is as supportive with the two of them as he is with Spacey.  Other funny people like Ioan Gruffudd and Julie Bowen turn up, and any movie that casts Wendell Pierce as a cop, even briefly, gets a point in my book.  Director Seth Gordon, who’s been doing a lot of TV since his fiction feature debut Four Christmases, doesn’t even attempt anything stylistically interesting or attractive, but he stays out of the way of his actors, and that’s a skill not to be underrated.

Horrible Bosses could have tried to be funny and provocative too, a modern day Billy Wilder comedy; it doesn’t.  It opts instead for what’s essentially an R-rated mix of 3 Stooges dumbness with Apatow male bonding.  This summer, though, compared to robots ripping each other apart and superheroes delivering vows to magical rings, silly laughs can look relatively smart.  Horrible Bosses may not be the kind of employee that rockets to a promotion, but it holds onto its job.


(HORRIBLE BOSSES – Warner Bros/New Line – R – 103 minutes – Director:  Seth Gordon – Script:  Michael Markowitz, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley – Cast:  Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Julie Bowen – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."