Monday, August 1, 2011

Not as Horrible as They Could Have Been -- Reflections on "Horrible Bosses" (2011)

Seriously, would you be complaining?
What makes Horrible Bosses so much fun is that we can all relate to hating our bosses. I don't think any working stiff can say they've never had at least one job in which they wished their boss would just die already. When I was 16, the first job I had was working at a Baker's Burgers, and I got fired for making up an obscene song about the night manager, whose condescending, bitchy attitude was enough to send me over the edge. Since then, I've had a range of bosses, from the kind and sweet to the downright insulting (I'll never forget the time I worked at a real estate journal and had the editor read one of my articles and say "Shit. Shit. Shit" as he made his way through every line with a red pen.).

It's these sorts of memories that make us want to see a movie like Horrible Bosses, and it is also these memories that make us like the film more than we probably should. This is a funny, solid movie that will eventually get tons of replays on TBS, Comedy Central, or FX in an edited form a few years from now.

From my tone, though, you can see that somehow I was still dissatisfied. I was. Horrible Bosses is a film that had the chance to be a much better one. Its script is weak in comparison to all the acting talent on display, and never really dives into situations that could have made the comedy darker, harsher, and more potent. As I watched it, I kept thinking how safe a movie about murder felt, and I never once felt worried or nervous about the fate of our heroes. This is quite a contrast with a significantly better movie about the workplace -- Mike Judge's classic Office Space -- which revved up the tension throughout and made us really care about the fate of its similar three headed protagonist. Horrible Bosses is still a decent, enjoyable comedy, but it wants you to think it is edgier than it actually is, sort of like Jeff Dunham, or Dane Cook.

Basics: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kenny (Jason Sudekis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are long-time friends who all have shitty jobs. Nick's boss, Mr. Harken (Kevin Spacey) is a controlling, manipulative jerk who takes advantage of Nick's work ethic to leverage a bigger salary for himself. Kenny's boss, Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), is a major league douche-bag with a coke problem. And Dale's boss, Julia (Jennifer Aniston), sexually harasses him constantly, despite the fact that he's engaged to be married. The three decide enough's enough and seek out a hitman (Jamie Foxx) to kill their bosses. All the hitman wants is to offer them advice, and in a Strangers on a Train twist, the three friends wind up deciding to kill each other's horrible boss.

Protagonist Problems: One of my biggest issues with this film was its characterization of the protagonists. In each of their first scenes we begin to get glimpse into their characters, but once the plot takes over, each becomes quite generic and obvious. Nick is the paranoid, wet noodle type, Kenny the horn dog, and Dale the hyper buffoon. None really shows any other side to his character. I think had the writers chosen to split them up instead of keeping them together so often, we might have been able to distinguish them better. This is especially true for Nick, who merely comes across as a variation on every other character Jason Bateman has played in recent memory. Seriously, I had to look up the character's names on IMDb because there was nothing about them to make me remember their names.

Supporting Cast Kudos: While the leads are a definite problem here, the supporting cast is dead-on. They don't get enough screen time to really flex their collective muscles, but what time they do have each makes the most of. Kevin Spacey was born to play slimy, arrogant assholes like Mr. Harken, and you can see how much he relishes every scene he is in. Colin Farrell is fun as the gross and moronic Bobby -- it's always fun to see an actor sacrifice his/her good looks/image, and he does both here. But most fun is Jennifer Aniston's crazy turn as the hypersexual dentist. She needed more screen time if only so we could continue to realize that she actually is a good comedic actress. Aniston is sort of a female version of Bruce Willis -- incredibly talented and charismatic, but with a poor eye for quality projects. Her talent is definitely on display here, and its obvious that she is loving every minute of it.

Recommendations: If you thought Horrible Bosses was awesome and think I'm full of shit, check out these workplace comedies and then re-evaluate: Office Space, 9 to 5, Clerks, The Apartment, and The Devil Wears Prada. Each gives a different angle on the workplace, and each does so with delicious humor and biting satire.