Employers who bring new and varied meanings to "not suitable for work." Employees who show that misery loves company men. Here is a curveball for a comedy home-run. But at its best, Horrible Bosses is a blooper.
Short, sour and scabrous, Bosses is that paradoxical thing: a situation comedy where neither situation nor comedy is particularly effective where nonetheless Jason Bateman is sidesplitting, as is Colin Farrell in a supporting role.
Working stiffs and best buds Nick (Bateman), a middle manager, Dale (Charlie Day), a dental hygienist, and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), an accountant, are happy to have jobs. But they are harassed by bosses who are not merely from hell but evidently from its seventh circle.
Nick reports to Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), a corporate barracuda who feeds on his anxious employee for being two minutes late. Dale assists and resists Julia Harris, D.D.S. (Jennifer Aniston), a nymphomaniac who verbally and sexually assaults him. Kurt struggles with Bobby Pellit (Farrell), a cokehead and sex addict who pollutes the office and whose chemical company firm pollutes the environment.
The workplace caricatures are amusing (although not as funny as the similarly themed 9 to 5), but too cartoonish for the audience to have a rooting interest in our heroes. Director Seth Gordon (Four Christmases) seems to test jokes rather than direct a movie: He throws everything at the wall and sees what sticks.
Besides Bateman, what the film has going for it is a canny structure. The screenplay puts its characters into a Rube Goldberg mechanism that performs the most straightforward of tasks in the most circuitous way imaginable.
One drunken evening, as the worker bees plot to rid themselves of abusive bosses, they set into motion a series of actions that spectacularly backfire. Understand that these are guys who would look for a hit man in the personals, use a Prius as a getaway car, and illegally search a home using shirt cuffs so as to not leave fingerprints.
While Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis have an affable interplay, the latter two play at such an inhumanly accelerated pace that Bateman's slow-on-the-uptake performance stands apart. His deadpan is the liveliest thing in the movie, which is something like a Three Stooges comedy with only one funny stooge.
Aniston, Farrell, and Spacey play the parts of overbearing (and, in the case of Aniston, over-baring) bosses not just up to the hilt, but up to the armpits. Still, locating laughs in their performances is a little like Goldilocks locating the right bowl of mush: Aniston is too hot, Spacey too cold, and Farrell just right.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215 854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/