“Horrible Bosses” is a black comedy about put-upon employees who decide to kill their bosses that doesn't follow through enough on its convictions. The film lacks bite and a willingness to go to truly dark places, but thanks to a very solid cast the film is still funny in its own goofy, vulgar sort of way.
Jason Bateman's Nick works grueling hours in an office run by an egomaniacal psycho played by Kevin Spacey, who gives the promotion Nick was waiting for to himself. Charlie Day's Dale is an anxiety-filled neurotic working as a dental assistant to Jennifer Aniston who sexual harasses him. Jason Sudeikis' Kurt works for a coke fiend played by Colin Farrell with a comb-over from hell.
The trio decide to off their bosses and enlist the help of a “murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx, whose character has a name that can't be printed and a very funny story about how he got that name that definitely can't be printed here. Foxx suggests they kill each other's bosses similar to Alfred Hitchcock's “Strangers on a Train” or Danny DeVito's riff on that film “Throw Momma from a Train.”
Now, forgive me as I get academic for a second. Black comedy seems like a term that should be easy enough to define and yet I found myself struggling to do so. A search on Wikipedia yielded this: “Black humor is a term coined by surrealist theoretician André Breton in 1935, to designate a sub-genre of comedy and satire in which laughter arises from cynicism and skepticism, often about the topic of death.”
That seemed about as good as any definition, but if it is a sub-genre of satire, how is it different from it? One Merriam-Webster definition of satire is: “wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.” Black comedy does the same thing, but puts a mirror up to the most vile, deplorable aspects of humanity. In essence it is a darker form of satire.
Another key of black humor is taking something to its logical extreme to the point of which it becomes illogical. For example in “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift suggested that impoverished Irish sell their children to the rich as food and actually included possible recipes. Or in the case of “Horrible Bosses” if you don't like your bosses, kill them.
With this understanding, “Horrible Bosses” disappoints at being a black comedy. It is more of a vulgar, screwball farce with dark undertones and on that level it works, but those who hoped the film would go to weirder and nastier places will be let down.
This is a case where an original script by Michael Markowitz was re-written by “script doctors” and you can sense the material was softened and made easier to digest. It isn't that the material is bad, in fact it is often very funny, but in spite of some racy content, it feels too safe given the premise.
The cast goes a long way to making this movie entertaining and even elevating the material from average to above average. Bateman, a master of dead pan delivery, Day and Sudeikis have a great dynamic together.
Day and Sudeikis worked together previously on last year's under appreciated romantic comedy “Going the Distance” and they are developing a strong screen chemistry. They make a good team and it would be interesting to see them paired more.
The film's best scene involves Bateman and Day accidentally spilling a large supply of cocaine and frenetically trying to clean it up while falling under the influence of the drug in the process. It is howlingly funny.
Spacey previously played this kind of character in the far darker “Swimming with Sharks,” but it is a welcome reprisal as he is the king of menacing, snarky put-downs. Farrell gets big laughs as an obnoxious moron. He's barely recognizable and it is a performance that needs to be seen. Aniston gets to show off a vulgar side and it suits her well.
Movies are all about expectations. Walk in expecting a goofy, coarse comedy with a bit of meanness and there are many laughs to be found with “Horrible Bosses.”