'Horrible Bosses' (R)
Comedy's great potential is squandered on lame jokes and old gags
The trajectory of this year’s raunchy comedies spirals farther downward with the desperately unfunny Horrible Bosses, about a trio of tormented workers (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) who decide to kill each other’s intolerable employers (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell).
Consider for a moment how far we’ve traveled since spring, starting with the surprisingly funny Bridesmaids, in which women indulged in gross bathroom humor, fought over dresses and eventually bonded to the musical stylings of Wilson Phillips. Stumbling along next was The Hangover 2, which might have been more amusing if only we hadn’t seen most of it already, followed by the mediocre Bad Teacher, which seemed twice as long as it actually was but at least occasionally grasped the necessity of underplaying some (though not enough) gags.
Slow-witted, clumsy and almost pathologically reliant on crude name-calling for laughs — and most of the names have long since lost their shock value, since you can hear them on Comedy Central any night of the week — Horrible Bosses represents the lowest end of the comedy spectrum. Watching it is about as much fun as digging a ditch in the middle of a lightning storm on Christmas Day for free while an HR representative explains that your benefits have been canceled. It’s not bad because it’s crude; co-star Day — his shrill, hysterical dental assistant, tortured by his sexually abusive boss (Aniston) is by far the funniest thing in the movie — is living proof that offensive humor can succeed. He co-stars in and has written episodes for his day job, FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a masterwork of appalling, bad-taste hilarity.
Unfortunately, Day did not write Horrible Bosses, though one of its creators is John Francis Daley, who starred a million years ago on the short-lived but now beloved Judd Apatow creation Freaks and Geeks. Sadly any lessons gleaned from Apatow and Co. appear to have been lost on Daley, and his co-writers don’t offer much in the way of freshness, either. They manage to thoroughly hamstring Bateman (Arrested Development) who has yet to find a comedy that makes good use of his considerable straight-man talents and pitch-perfect delivery. As for Sudeikis (Hall Pass), I must have missed the memo that went out declaring that he is irresistible to gorgeous women, a running joke that never makes any sense. But then, Horrible Bosses treats women only as targets for sexual humor, not as actual characters who can draw laughs (the writers clearly have not even a passing familiarity with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristin Wiig or Melissa McCarthy). But what can you expect from the sort of movie where the comic highlight is Sudeikis’ horndog character breaking into his boss’ place and sticking the guy’s toothbrush down his pants? It’s a gag no more original than Bateman and Day knocking over a box of cocaine, a dated joke Woody Allen used and rendered a cliche more than 30 years ago.
The bosses don’t add much, either. Spacey does his Swimming with Sharks schtick and seems about as menacing as a Pekinese. Aniston licks Popsicles and writhes around and talks dirty. Farrell plays against type with a hideous comb-over and polyester pants but doesn’t have much to do beyond looking foolish. Jamie Foxx, as a tattooed “murder consultant,” fares better, but even he’s not enough to make viewing Horrible Bosses anything more than hard work.
Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey.
Director: Seth Gordon.
Screenwriters: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein.
Producers: Brett Ratner, Jay Stern.
A New Line release. Running time: 100 minutes. Language, sexual content. Playing at area theaters