I’ve been sitting here trying to think of what, exactly, to say about Seth Gordon’s Horrible Bosses. On one hand, there’s nothing like amazing filmmaking going on here, and the material is standard at best. Give it a few months, and I’ll forget that I ever watched this movie. Then again, I was consistently entertained, and—more importantly—never bored. And in a year where I’ve been constantly underwhelmed with new releases, and waiting for something—anything—to wow me, at this point I’ll take a film that’s merely entertaining.
What works about the film is what’s been working for a lot of recent comedies—the cast. You can see examples of this in both Hangover movies, as well as films like Bridesmaids, which only stay afloat due to the likability of the people on screen. It’s a welcome trend, and I hope that it keeps up. After all, film vehicles for mugging comedic superstars will never quite die (go find the trailer for the Adam-Sandler-in-drag flick Jack and Jill—oozing into theaters this holiday season—if you need a reminder), but any alternative is a welcome one. Jason Bateman is the king of these types of roles, an actor with few chops beyond excellent deadpan comedic timing and an innate likability. But this is all he needs—honestly more than most Hollywood actors have—and the movie helps him out by pairing him with a couple of guys—Charlie Day (who nearly steals the movie) and Jason Sudeikis—who genuinely seem to enjoy working together. It’s this chemistry that keeps Horrible Bosses chugging along, even through the weak opening’s adolescent-minded sex humor.
The film takes a bit to find its bearings, indulging in a bit too much set up, but eventually we get to the film’s main premise: Our three leads have decided to murder their titular horrible bosses. Once Jamie Foxx shows up as a supposedly hardened criminal and “murder consultant,” the film starts to find its legs. This also highlights more of the shrewdness in casting. Any moral conundrums one might have in seeing these truly, unmitigatingly awful characters offed is helped by equally excellent casting. Before this film, I was unaware that no one could play a balding, ignorant cokehead quite like Colin Farrell. Then there’s Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, two actors that I’ve never warmed up to, and generally don’t find to be likable in any role. Here, however, they’re put into roles where they’re supposed to be unlikable, and the movie’s all the better for it.
Is it funny? For the most part, yes. Again, that’s less a product of the material than it is the people on screen. As a work of black comedy, it’s pretty toothless and benign. It’s never truly edgy, and never acts like it really wants to be. Then again, Horrible Bosses also never that turns obnoxious or truly stupid—despite the many opportunities it has in the premise—and as a result the cineplex is just a slightly better place for it. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.