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TBTS Reviews: Horrible Bosses

July 22, 2011

Summers are all about the big action. Giant robots, superheroes, action thrillers, aliens. We all know this. But it seems that each summer also holds at least one comedy surprise. In the past those movies have been the likes of Anchorman, Superbad, and of course possibly the biggest sleeper comedy of the last ten years, The Hangover. These are the movies that pop up rather unexpectedly, make a decent amount of money on word of mouth, and relegate themselves eventually to stations like TBS or TNT, where they get rewatched over and over.

The summer’s not over yet, but given what’s yet to come it’s unlikely that anything’s going to take the summer-comedy crown from Horrible Bosses. While I’d wager to say it’s not nearly as good as any of the three movies I cited in the first paragraph of this piece, it’s surprisingly sound and engaging. You’ve seen the trailers by now, even probably heard the word of mouth: three put-upon buddies make a deal to off one another’s sleazy work superiors. If it sounds very Strangers on a Train-ish, you’d be right; there’s even a reference to the suspense classic in the film (although it’s cleverly mixed up with the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito comedy Throw Momma From the Train, which itself was a pretty terrible remake of the Hitchcock masterpiece).

The three leads fill the comedy quota well: Jason Bateman as the practical voice of reason, SNL’s Jason Sudekis as the skirt-chaser with a good heart, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia breakout star Charlie Day, with his high pitched, frantic squeaking, as sexually-harassed Dale. The devoted, engaged Dale gets significantly less sympathy for his situation as his boss is played to the hilt of kinkiness by Friends’ Jennifer Aniston, nasty though her motives may be. Kevin Spacey, channeling his character from the excellent and little-seen Swimming with Sharks, is the thorn in Bateman’s side; Colin Farrell — clearly having a blast as Sudekis’ coked-up, kung-fu loving former boss’ son — is Sudekis’ workplace nuisance.

When the decision to assassinate said bosses is decided upon, the three venture into South Central L.A. to find a suitable contact. They find a possible candidate in Jamie Foxx, playing a character inspiredly-named Motherf–ker Jones, who decides to act as their “murder consultant.” And the stage is set.

What follows over the latter hour of Horrible Bosses is essentially a farce played out in a series of streets and neighborhoods surrounding the bosses’ homes. There’s not a tremendous amount of subplot to deal with and everything’s rather straightforward, which is really why it works. Sweet, innocent Dale begins to have second thoughts about his ability to murder another human being, Sudekis finds an alternate route to the deed, and Bateman’s situation becomes the pivot-point which gives the movie its darkly comic twist.

Horrible Bosses is both rooted in a very sensible reality and sees occasional gusts into disbelief-suspending lunacy; like me, you may find yourself devising a smarter plan as the events unfold, a plan which never seems to dawn on our dim anti-heroes. But it’s quite a bit of fun to see everything unfold. Bateman isn’t given more to do than his Arrested Development character Michael Bluth, but Sudekis is appropriately idiotic and smarmy. Particularly impressive is Charlie Day, who really steals the show with his over-the-top reactions and rapid-fire jabbering  (a great nuance to his character is that he’s a registered sex offender — he once publically urinated in a children’s playground late at night).

There’s a lot to like about Horrible Bosses, and even though it may be a bit of a throwaway comedy, it’s still a strong one. Aniston plays against type with profane dialogue, Spacey glowers and threatensand Farrell takes another step in his current bid to become a loved supporting actor again (it’s working, by the way). But the these three, make no mistake about it, are the background cast, and the three leads nimbly propel the movie along with a quick script and some great lines. You won’t find Optimus Prime in this Los Angeles, destroying buildings or swinging a giant sword, but Horrible Bosses does offer up an enjoyable, fun summer film — and I’ll take that over the over-CGI’ed Green Lantern any day.  It’s proof that not everything in the summer has to be massive, and Horrible Bosses’ quick hit may be just the antidote to a noisy multiplex of explosions, wizards, robots and spacemen.

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