‘Horrible Bosses’ movie review: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day shine in ensemble comedy

Director Seth Gordon made a name for himself with the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters back in 2007 (an absolute must for retro gamers); he made a quick jump into Hollywood the following year with the disappointing and mostly miserable Four Christmases, which wasted an especially fine cast for an ensemble comedy.

But Gordon was not deterred. His latest, Horrible Bosses, has an even better cast, and the director has righted previous wrongs: this is an engaging and relevant comedy that’s especially fun, at least most of the way. And the cast is dynamite.

Horrible Bosses stars a trio of talented comedians (perhaps) best known for their work on the small screen: Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live), and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

While I’ve never been as big a fan of Sudeikis, I consider Bateman (who has turned some great work in lesser films since AD was canned – Juno, State of Play, Hancock, The Switch, etc.) and Day (also in Going the Distance) two of the best comedic performers of their generation (and their respective shows, two of best on TV in the 00s).

They play a trio of friends and put-upon workers. Nick (Bateman) is an office drone who has just been passed over for a promotion when his boss “absorbs” a vice president role. Kurt (Sudeikis) was happy at his processing firm until his boss’s obnoxious, cokehead son takes over the company.

And Dale (Day) is a dental assistant who has to combat sexual harassment on a daily basis. Quit? It’s a tough economy. Even tougher if you’re blackmailed into staying at your current position, or if you’re a registered sex offender.

Here’s the best part: the cruel, psychotic, and deviant bosses are played by, respectively, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston. Each is terrific. Spacey, as the office goon, can play this role in his sleep (he already mastered it in Swimming with Sharks, after a similar turn in Glengarry Glen Ross), but it’s great seeing him back in action, working with a talented ensemble and doing what he does best (a string of flops culminating in Beyond the Sea landed him in movie jail for a few years).

Farrell – almost unrecognizable under a thin douchebag beard and a bald(ing) cap (complete with combover) – has a couple great scenes as the psycho; generally, though he’s underutilized: Horrible Bosses could have used a lot more of him.

And Aniston hasn’t been this good in years – not only is she funny here, but with a dark brunette wig and a filthy mouth she’s incredibly sexy. Aniston makes the scenes of sexual harassment – which are naive, as written, and should play out as uncomfortable – not only palatable, but strangely alluring.

Story (by Michael Markowitz, and John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein) is not the film’s strong point: the employees hate the bosses and plot to kill them, Strangers on a Train (or Throw Momma from the Train) style. It’s engaging, up to a point, but by the end formula takes over, and what should have been a darker, blacker comedy is wrapped up neatly in a Hollywood box.

The cast keeps it together – and it doesn’t end at the employees and their bosses. Jamie Foxx has some great scenes as MF Jones, a hitman the boys turn to for advice. Ioan Gruffudd is hilarious as a man who specializes in “wet work.” Donald Sutherland plays Kurt’s initial, benevolent boss. And Wendell Pierce (The Wire) and Ron White (Blue Collar Comedy Tour) show up as a pair of ineffective detectives.

This is a good, solid comedy, though the script holds it back from greatness. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and redemption for director Gordon, who should have a long career ahead of him.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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