‘Horrible Bosses’: Leave the kids at home

On the high heels of "Bad Teacher" comes a movie that could have been called "Bad Dentist."

Its actual name is "Horrible Bosses," and it features Jennifer Aniston in one of the title roles as a dentist who harasses her assistant (Charlie Day), even drugging and disrobing him for a series of provocative blackmail photos in which she herself is half-naked.

The extremely R-rated role also calls for Aniston to talk in crude terms about her anatomy, and to do other things that defy euphemistic description. Suffice it to say there are things that happen in the dentist's chair that expand the definition of oral sex.

Surely director Seth Gordon ("Four Christmases") was expecting little when he sent the script to Aniston, and was happily stunned when it came back a "yes."

But was this a totally good thing?

Aniston has always been a good sport (see also "Management," with Steve Zahn, or her coconut dance in "Just Go With It"), but her anything-for-a-laugh ethos doesn't help "Bosses" as much as you'd think.

Her outrageous scenes with Day rarely get past "I can't believe they talked Jennifer Aniston into this." It's the kind of stunt-casting problem that's a bit of a problem "Horrible Bosses" - Kevin Spacey turns up as a corporate tyrant who torments Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell a coke-snorting comb-over who inherits his dad's business and makes life hell for Jason Sudeikis.

The three employees, all friends, agree on a Hitchcockian plan - each will kill one of the other guy's bosses. They seek out a murder consultant (Jamie Foxx, who's funny in a tricky role), high jinks ensue.

You can feel that "Horrible Bosses" wants to go in the direction of black comedy. It's a bit like "Ruthless People" - bumbling sympathetic amateurs, unforeseen consequences. Bateman, Day and Sudeikis are ideally cast, and have the good timing of comedy pros.

It mostly works. But you also sense that "Bosses" - like so many modern studio comedies - was edited to preserve and highlight test-screening laughs at all costs. Other considerations - character, story, rhythm, flow, theme - are secondary.

The main characters have almost no biographical detail, and "Horrible Bosses" has almost nothing to say about the workplace issues heralded in the title, something that might have given it a foot in the real world.

On the other hand, what the real world needs right now are laughs, and "Bosses" generates its share of those.

Horrible Bosses

Directed by Seth Gordon. With Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jamie Foxx, Jason Sudeikis, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Julie Bowen. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material).