Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are old high school buddies. Their career paths have taken very different directions but they still live in the same town and hang out together. Moreover, they each suffer from a particularly horrible boss: Nick sold his soul to corporate monster Harken (Kevin Spacey); Kurt will soon be out of work if the company’s vile new owner Pellitt (Colin Farrell) follows through on his stated intention of wringing every last cent from the business to fuel his drug habit; and poor Dale is the victim of appalling sexual harassment by his dentist boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston). Pushed to the breaking point, the friends make a pact to kill their tormentors.
The best thing about Horrible Bosses is the casting of talented comic actors Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day as the central trio. Bateman stands out for his comic timing with a good line and Day for his character’s extreme but somehow endearing hyperactivity. The actors collectively sell the idea that this trio has been close friends for a lot of years. As by far the least-seen evil boss, Colin Farrell is a hoot in his few appearances.
The next best thing is a set-up every working adult can identify with. Depending on personal inclination, the movie offers a wish fulfillment fantasy, material for schadenfreude, or the perfect opportunity to launch into a “did I ever tell you about that time my boss…” story in post-viewing conversation.
It’s part of the set-up that killing the evil bosses is both justified by their evilness and a desperate measure of last resort. At least, that’s what they tell each other. Putting the moral dimension of the former point aside (as the film does), the set-up founders on the obvious unnecessariness of killing Pellitt to get rid of him. Dale’s situation is improbable to put it kindly, but the movie does take the trouble to establish that both he and, more plausibly, Nick have everything at stake and no other way out. Kurt could just pick up the phone and dial 911 the next time Pellitt starts living it up with cocaine and a few prostitutes in his non-soundproofed office.
It probably sounds strange and beside the point for me to be complaining about a lack of realism in a vulgar summer comedy, but here’s why it matters: the realism, the we can all relate to it-ness, is what gave the comedy its bite. Conceding that acknowledging, to say nothing of delving into, Kurt’s depravity would make the movie much blacker than it has any intention of becoming, Horrible Bosses progressively loses its edge as it drifts deeper into a fantasyland populated by cartoon characters doing cartoonish things.
Strip away the rude, crude, sexual, and loud and you have a movie whose idea of a good joke is a belabored running gag about Americans’ inability to pronounce the name of Indian call center employees.
Compounding my disappointment- honestly, I was laughing too at the start- the treatment of the women characters is tiresome and unpleasant. Putting Dale’s sweet fiancee aside (as the movie does), womankind is represented in the film by the contemptible, raunchy, mostly naked much of the time Julia; Harken’s nymphomaniac trophy wife; and a female colleague of Kurt’s whose sole reason for existence is to provide the punchline to a fat joke.