Revenge of the working stiffs? We’ve probably all fantasised about seeking revenge on our unsympathetic and cruel bosses. But now we get the chance to vicariously experience our various revenge fantasies with this male variation on Nine To Five. Horrible Bosses deals with three harassed, bullied and verbally abused workers who decide to kill their overbearing and cruel bosses.
Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are best friends who have known each other since school. Kurt seems to be the only one who really enjoys his job, while the other two continually whinge about their overbearing and horrible bosses. Nick is a conscientious office clerk and seems on the fast track to promotion to Vice President in Charge of Sales. But his dictatorial and mercurial boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) delights in cruelly tormenting Nick, and then denies him his much-deserved promotion. Dale works as a dental assistant for the slutty, predatory nymphomaniac Dr Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston cast against type), who teases him on a daily basis with her innuendo and overt harassment. And Kurt works for a chemical company, which is run by a benevolent boss in Jack Pellit (a cameo appearance from Donald Sutherland). But when Jack dies of a heart attack, his debauched coke head son Bobby (an almost unrecognisable Colin Farrell) takes over. Bobby has little interest in running the company, and even asks Kurt to fire all the fat people, because he hates the sight of them.
Over drinks one night, the three friends jokingly decide that they need to kill their bosses. At first they attempt to hire a hitman. They seek help and advice from the wonderfully named Dean “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx), a sleazy hit man they meet in the worst bar in town. Taking their cues from the Hitchcock classic Strangers On A Train, which they amusingly mix up with the Danny De Vito/Billy Crystal comedy Throw Momma From The Train, they hit on a plan to kill each other’s boss, so as to deflect suspicion away from themselves. But as is to be expected, things do not go smoothly, and the three inept would be killers find themselves out of their depth, much like the protagonists in the fabulous Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, etc.
Horrible Bosses is an amusing black comedy filled with some very funny situations and deft one-liners. The writers come from a background in television, but they give the film the same crass dialogue, raunchy adult flavoured humour and male bonding of audience pleasing films like The Hangover, etc. Michael Markowitz is a producer and writer for tv sitcoms like Becker, etc. This is the first feature script from actor turned writer John Francis Daley, who has written for Bones, etc. Tv producer and writer Jonathan M Goldstein is best known for S**t My Dad Says and The New Adventures Of Old Christine, etc. Director Seth Gordon is better known for films like The King Of Kong, etc, but he comes from a background in television comedy, working on shows like the US version of The Office, etc. He handles the material here with a sure hand, and he knows how to extract laughs from the crisp script. He also brings a wonderful energy to the material. That the film’s happy ending falls a little flat and seems forced is the main let down to what has been an otherwise very enjoyable comedy.
The film benefits from a solid cast, and the three leads work well together and develop a rapport that adds to the film. Bateman is enjoying something of a purple patch career-wise at the moment, with roles in edgy, subversive independent black comedies like Juno and Extract, as well as mainstream comedies with a raunchy edge like The Switch and the up coming role swap comedy The Change-Up. He plays the put upon everyman well. Day, from tv series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is amusing as the comically inept and naive Dale with his whiny voice and cowed manner.
But it is the three veteran actors playing the bosses from hell that draw the biggest laughs. Spacey seems to be reprising his ego-driven movie studio executive from Swimming With Sharks here as the cruel, paranoid and manipulative Hansen. Aniston seems to relish her role here playing against type and breaking away from the familiar confines of saccharine romantic comedies. Hidden beneath a pot belly and a horrid comb over, Farrell has the least screen time of the three bosses, but makes his character repellent and sleazy.