' ' Cinema Romantico: Horrible Bosses

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Movies are really pretty simple. You can implement raunch and toothbrushes in butts and Jennifer Aniston mostly naked, sure, and you can even choose to forgo your main characters learning any type of valuable lesson, if you want, for the sake of comedy, but it still all comes down to setups and payoffs. "Horrible Bosses", like a long list of movies before it, is all setups and no payoffs. Well, there are payoffs, they're just lame and uninspired, as if the writers (John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein, Michael Markowitz) had a week to finish the whole script, spent the first six-and-a-half days working on the setups, became exhausted, and just prior to passing out engaged the Screenwriting Auto Pilot.

Nick (Jason Bateman) works for David Harken, played by Kevin Spacey with an elitist smarm that reminded me a little of his role as the anal retentive boss of the real estate office in "Glengarry Glen Ross." He has come in early and stayed late for years and years, all in the hope of landing a promotion as Senior Vice President Of Sales, a promotion that Harken decides to bestow upon himself instead. So Nick kinda hates his boss.

Dale (Charlie Day) works as a dental assistant for Dr. Julia Harris (Aniston). He's an easy-going guy with a shady past that's not actually as shady as it appears who yearns to do nothing more than get married to the lovely Stacy (Lindsay Sloane). Except it turns out Julia has designs on sexually harrassing her way into Dale's heart. The more he resists, the more she turns up the heat. So Dale kinda hates his boss.

Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) doesn't hate his boss, the genial Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland). In fact, Jack tells Kurt that one day he'll probably he taking over the whole company. Except the instant after saying this Lou has a heart attack and dies, meaning that instead of the reigns being handed to Kurt they are handed to Jack's son, the incomprehensibly loutish, foul-mouthed, disgusting Bobby (Colin Farrell, teetering on the brink of unrecognizable in a bald cap with a bad combover). So Kurt kinda hates his new boss.

Thus the three address the hypothetical question of murdering their bosses which goes from hypothetical to reality in record time which finds them unwittingly tracking down a self-professed "murder consultant" (Jamie Foxx, who takes the art of sucking on a straw to new heights) and hatching a scheme wherein they will each off one of the other's bosses. This set-up has all sorts of potential. Imagine a modernish version of The Marx Brothers remaking Hitchock's "Strangers on a Train" (which gets name checked) by way of "Ruthless People." Except now imagine it's not as good as that premise sounds.

The bosses themselves are quite likely the high point. Spacey's good but Farrell one ups him and Aniston one ups him. I caught a ride back to Chicago from Des Moines last week with my friends Jeff and Maria and Maria spent much of the time reading gossip magazines in the front seat and then handing them back to me when she was finished which was how I learned that apparently in real life Ms. Aniston is dating Justin Theroeux, an actor I like who, as it turns out, doubles as a "bad boy" which, if the gossips are to be believed (and why wouldn't they be?) means Jennifer has been turning into a bit of a "bad girl." (She got her first tattoo!!!) Is this why she took the role? To impress Theroeux? If so, job well done. She's a femme fatale wielding a waterpik instead of a cigarette.

That said, the character doesn't much go anywhere or build to anything significant. Ditto Farrell. He seems squarely in his wheelhouse as a paranoid cokehead but his comeuppance is unfairly cheap. Spacey gets more screen time and, for lack of a better term, arc, yet the more he's around, the more the humor is strained. This, as it turns out, is the film's main motif. Foxx's "murder consultant" is set up nicely and then given a payoff beyond dull and obvious. Dale in his opening voiceover is all about getting married and being a husband but his fiancĂ© is used as the crutch for one gag and then completely forgotten. And rather than the film escalating to a dizzyingly ridiculous conclusion that delivers the biggest laugh (or, at least, a suitably hilarious one), it instead devolves into - you guessed it! - a car chase. Really? To quote Luke Wilson from "Anchorman" after having his other arm lopped off by the bear: "Oh, come on!"

This is not to suggest the movie is entirely unfunny. Our trio of leads actually develop a nice a rapport even if Bateman is just being Bateman and Charlie is just being Charlie (Sudeikis, however, is beginning to strike me as someone who wants to be more than a Bateman but hasn't realized he doesn't have the necessary charisma to pull it off) and they have some great tossed off lines and little moments like Dale rocking out to to The Ting Tings in his car. (It's funny because it's true. Uh, at least in my case.) But is it so much to ask to go on a comedic roller coaster as opposed to just sitting in a dunk tank and having the screenwriters lob jokes at the target and pray that some of them hit?

"Horrible Bosses" didn't need to be masterpiece. It just needed to be, you know, better.


Castor said...

I thought this was hilarious! Nothing groundbreaking but it's completely over-the-top and running with it with great chemistry between the main trio of actors.

Nick Prigge said...

I mean, it was funny. I laughed. But I just couldn't help but feel with more attention paid to the actual writing it could have been something more. Maybe that's being greedy. But I don't think so.

Andrew K. said...

"and, for lack of a better term, arc"

This review is golden, but that line - that line just gets me. This points to so many of the things I didn't like especially the fact that I found it terribly lazy.