This 2011 comedy is 69% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes where 71% of the audience reports liking it.
I think that indicates how young the audience is. It has a mixed Metacritic score at 57.
Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) all work in difficult situations. Nick’s boss is a greedy, ambitious, paranoid, psycho. Dale’s boss is a sexually aggressive woman who harasses him. Kurt’s boss is the idiot son of the beloved, but deceased, business owner who just wants to make all the money he can off the company and then abandon its corpse.
So, naturally, our three protagonists decide to kill their bosses.
Uninspired, lacking insight, poorly timed, badly marketed, and lacking structure.
First off, I really like Jason Bateman’s work. He does his best in this film, but there’s not enough for him to work with here.
I’ve watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I enjoy Charlie Day on that show.
Jason Sudeikis was new to me. I don’t remember him from Semi-Pro or The Rocker, though I’ve seen both.
I enjoyed Four Christmases, and adored the TV show Breaking In, which Seth Gordon directed – and he directed this movie.
I still think Horrible Bosses was crap, for two big reasons.
First, I’m old.
I’ve seen a lot of Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, and Cheech & Chong. As a result, I’ve seen most of the funny bits of Horrible Bosses before. This is the curse of the older moviegoer, unfortunately. We’ve seen the material that inspires today’s writers and directors. We’re rarely surprised, and surprise is part of what makes comedy work. Horrible Bosses simply lacks innovation.
Second, too much of it is improv.
I think improvisational comedy is fine…in small doses. I think it’s best live, when the parts that crack the actors up also crack up the audience. Watch Horrible Bosses all the way through the credits, and you’ll see how many great moments wound up on the cutting room floor because the actors lost their composures and started laughing.
Another danger of improve is varying skill levels among the actors, and misunderstandings about the scenes. Colin Farrell (who plays Kurt’s boss) is clearly not in the same movie as Kevin Spacey (who plays Nick’s boss) or Jennifer Anniston (who plays Dale’s boss). Farrell is farcical and over-the-top. Clearly, not all the actors had the same understanding of the tone of the film.
Then again, there are flaws in the basic concept of the movie.
In 2011, we were in our third year of the Great Recession. Tons of people are still out of work. Those people who are still working are, according to the news media, working longer hours and handling more responsibilities than they did before the global economy tanked.
If you wanted to make a comedy about terrible events affecting people’s lives right now, you could to tap into people’s fantasies about those events and create an escapist fiction. Alternately, you could go realistic and draw black humor from the situation.
Either of those requires insight. You need real feeling for what people are going through and why it’s funny, or not. You need empathy. Seth Gordon’s documentary, The King of Kong, was praised by critics. So it’s possible that he has the chops to draw insight and display empathy, it’s just not on screen in Horrible Bosses.
Instead, they make boob jokes.
Having a guy who worked for Lehman Brothers reduced to giving handjobs in a bar restroom for $40 apiece isn’t empathetic or insightful.
If you’re going to make a movie where the protagonists are killers, there are several things that you need to establish. First, you must establish a direct threat to the protagonist or to those the protagonist loves. Second, you must establish that the protagonist has no recourse, no alternative.
Horrible Bosses fails on both counts. Although both Harken (Kevin Spacey) and Harris (Jennifer Anniston) threaten their subordinates, their threats require the protagonists to do something before the threat triggers. Pellitt (Colin Farrell) threatens Pellitt & Sons, but not Kurt.
I couldn’t understand why Nick didn’t go to HR and file complaints, or to his state labor bureau. Dale needed lawyer, but there are plenty who specialize in employment law and all have a requirement to work a certain number of pro bono hours every year. Kurt just needed to call the police.
Horrible Bosses tries to explain why they don’t by making Dale a registered sex offender, but then they play it for laughs (he urinated on a playground in the middle of the night when no children were present) and it just doesn’t work.
Nick and Kurt seem to exist separate from the rest of reality. They have no families, churches, clubs, associations, or friends besides each other. That actually makes them less sympathetic, which is the opposite of what you want in protagonists.
In closing, I have to say that if the marketing made you want to see Horrible Bosses, that’s because all the funniest moments are in the commercials.
See 9 to 5, A Shock to the System, or Office Space, rather than Horrible Bosses.
Unless you want to see a little bit more of this: