Horrible Bosses ✮✮
Let’s Throw My Boss from the Train
by Glenn Lovell
Given our current economic bind, it comes as no surprise that the present crop of comedies ‒ from “Larry Crowne” to “Everything Must Go” ‒ deals with the loss of one’s livelihood. It’s just a matter of milking the national mindset, right? The irony is, these films aren’t very popular, more than suggesting that filmgoers would rather hang with robots from another galaxy than the schlub next door who’s suddenly enjoying an extended vacation.
Seth Gordon’s intermittently hilarious, seriously crude “Horrible Bosses” is and isn’t tied to our present economic woes. Best friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) are all gainfully employed. Nick slaves away as a stockbroker; Kurt’s an accountant at a chemical company; Dale, the runt of the trio, is an ever-amenable dental assistant.
They’re not about to be downsized ‒ harangued and humiliated, maybe, but not downsized.
In fact, Nick’s boss, Mr. Harken (played with icy sarcasm by Kevin Spacey), reminds Nick he’s in it for the long haul. “I own you ‒ you’re my bitch,” he boasts, invading more than Nick’s space.
As you can surmise from the title, Kurt and the others are plagued by BFH’s (bosses from hell) ‒ Harken taunts Nick with a carrot-stick promotion; Bobby Pellit (the improbably cast Colin Farrell, sporting serious comb-over) goads Kurt for being a kiss-ass to his late father (Donald Sutherland); and Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), referred to as “an evil, crazy bitch” dentist, lives to paw, grope and otherwise sexually harass the very much engaged Dale.
Things get so bad, the guys decide the only solution is homicide. Their bosses are too rotten to live. “It’s not murder if it’s justified,” one of them reasons.
Enter “Murder Consultant” Dean Jones (Jamie Foxx), who suggests the guys off each others’ bosses, thereby eliminating motive. Actually, Jones, a comically sinister ex-con, doesn’t go by the first name Dean because of the Herbie / “Love Bug” connection “I can’t walk around in this neighborhood with that Disney-ass name!” So he goes by Mother-F—ker Jones, a moniker that never fails to amuse when the boys get down to serious backroom negotiations.
Like a lot of comedies today, “Horrible Bosses” is as much about movie in-jokes as comedic situations. Gordon’s inspiration for “the plan,” of course, is Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” which MF and his clients know all too well. At least two of them know the film ‒ Dale appears to think Hitchcock directed “Let’s Throw Momma from the Train.” When Dale sees pictures of himself drugged and in compromising positions, he yells rape. “Just, relax there, Jodie Foster,” Dr. Julia mocks, in reference to Foster’s rape victim in “The Accused.”
Gordon’s set-up is wonderfully mean-spirited, one sick joke piled atop another. Kurt’s boss points to an overweight employee and orders, “Trim the fat! They’re lazy, they’re slow … and they make me sad to look at.” There’s also some not-so-friendly interplay among the three friends. Kurt and Nick are at least as guilty of harassing Dale as Dr. Julia. Best of all is the inspired casting of the bosses. Because we’ve seen Spacey and Aniston in similar portrayals, Farrell’s cheesy, coke-head boss stands out among the three. Foxx has a great time in a roll that can be taken as a knowing goof on the street-smart hit man. MF is a master of negotiating downward, from $10,000 to $5,000 … to “Pay for my drinks?”
Unfortunately, “Horrible Bosses” runs out of zingers and worthwhile targets all too soon. What we’re left with is padding: car chases, home “recons,” moments lifted from Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (remember the coke sneeze?) and the Fonda-Parton-Tomlin payback comedy “Nine to Five.”
Still, I’m glad I caught this film, if only for the guilty pleasures of seeing Foxx, Farrell and Sudeikis. When it’s discovered that boss Harken has a potentially fatal peanut allergy, the friends go shopping. Dale takes advantage of a 2-for-1 sale. Kurt to his weighted-down friend: “Jesus, Dale, it’s a murder, not a cocktail party.”
Horrible Bosses ✮✮ With Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx. Directed by Seth Gordon; scripted by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein. 100 min. Rated R (for profanity, broad violence, graphic sex talk)