Cineworld Glasgow, 22.07.11
With the global recession rumbling on and economies showing no signs of coming back into the black (in the week of the UK release, the EU agreed a second bail out for Greek economy, while the US teetered on the brink of defaulting on its’ debt), it would seem the perfect opportunity for film to address the desperation and insecurity that many feel in their workplace. There have been attempts to address this in dramatic film, such as John Wells’s earnest The Company Men (2010), but so far satire and comedy has remained on the more immediate, topical TV programmes. The difficulty of finding gainful employment is touched on in one bar scene in the first half of Seth Gordan’s Horrible Bosses. Three friends Nick (Jason Bateman) Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) meet in a bar and console each other over beer about the misfortune they have in their current job. Each has a boss who abuses them in different ways. When they suggest to Kurt that he simply quit and find a new job elsewhere, they are unsubtley interrupted by another old school friend, Kenny (P.J. Byrne). A former banker with Lehmann Brothers who has become unemployed, lives back with his mother and now resorts to offering blow jobs for cash to make any income. It’s not a particularly subtle point, it’s delivered for broad laughs rather than biting satire, and unfortunately it is brushed over as a simple plot device that compels the three leads to see that the only way out of their current predicament is to murder the bosses that are making their lives so miserable.
Which neatly encapsulates both the pros and cons of the film as a whole. Despite the opportunity presented to use the global financial meltdown as the backdrop to the real life effects on everyday life for ordinary people – modern-day tragi-comic material ripe for the taking – instead Horrible Bosses cops out and goes for the easy money and lowest common denominator of broad laughs, toilet humour and slapstick. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s good moments and some genuine laughs mixed in with the non-sensical plotting. Jason Bateman is always watchable and provides the most rounded character, as the put upon Nick, whose boss, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), abuses him constantly, while tempting him with the chance of promotion, only to renege on his promise and crush Nick’s hopes. Bateman’s sense of frustration at the knock back and revulsion at his boss’s treatment is justified, if not realistic. No one who behaved as Harken does would be allowed to get away with it, and the film nicely ignores all the other options on the ladder leading up to murder as a solution – human resources department anyone? Jason Sudeikis is Kurt, who has to put up with a coked-up son, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell) inheriting the family business, dismissing staff and making morally dubious decisions for pure personal profit. Again, realism is not called for, and the decision to resort to murder as the only solution seems a bit tenuous – a quick phone call to the police would leave Bobby in jail for any number of offences. Sudeikis can deliver a decent comic line, but is unrealistically cast as a man who seemingly can seduce any woman he wants within five minutes of meeting them, a running joke through the film. At no point is it clear why any woman would want to fall for him in any way, unable as he is to act with charm without becoming instantly smarmy and stupid. Lastly, comes Charlie Day as Dale, his problem being that his dentist boss Julia Harris, played with relish by Jennifer Aniston, is insisting on having sex with him, while all he wants to do is remain faithful to his fiancée. As is repeatedly pointed out to him by his friends, this is hardly the worst situation in the world to be in, and again, resorting to murder seems a rash decision. Of the three leads Day begins most energetically, a furry ball of energy, but it is all one-paced frantic action and dialogue, so that by the film’s conclusion, he is the one character the viewer would happily murder in order to shut him up.
The three ‘horrible bosses’ of the title are filled by the big name cast. Kevin Spacey gets the meatiest role and the most screen time, but he has done this thing much better before (see his genuinely evil boss Buddy Ackerman in Swimming With Sharks, George Huang, 1994) and is on auto pilot here. Given the few number of film roles he takes on these days, it’s a wonder why this is the one he plumped for – perhaps because he could do it without exerting too much effort. It’s nice to see Jennifer Aniston get to play something other than her usual Rachael-like rom-com leads and she clearly enjoys the chance to play on her clean-cut image, liberally spitting out dirty sex talk with gusto. But she is let down by the script – her character is almost redundant in the end, disappearing as the murder plot revolves around Harken and Pellit. Indeed, she suffers the ultimate Hollywood insult to women – she is there to provide the sex and nothing else. There is no back story as to why she acts as she does, and why, out of all the men she could have affairs with, she seems to fixate on the unimpressive Dale. A waste. Then, there is Colin Farrell, under prosthetic comb-over wig, overweight and sporting dodgy facial hair. Why the film-makers have chosen to use Farrell in this way is beyond reason, and why he felt the need to appear in a small part equally obscure. As slapstick humour goes it’s fine, but any number of actors could have filled this role, or indeed Farrell minus bizarre look could have done it, but once the initial sight gag of his appearance wears off, it becomes just bizarre.
So as the usual Hollywood comedy clichés mount up – our heroes become coked-up inadvertently, ugly guys get to sleep with attractive women, no one can pronounce Middle-Eastern names in America, there’s a car chase where Kurt suddenly has the driving skills of a racing driver, and of course, a happy ending that neatly, if rather weakly, ties up any loose ends. And so, as this is Hollywood, no one is left unhappy by the global crisis, everyone ends up in contented jobs they love and the world is a pleasant place for everyone. The bad guys who run the big businesses remain largely untouched – Harken may end up in jail, but in the final denouement we learn that his boss, now Nick’s boss, is equally despicable. Which all seems to run against both public feeling and recent current events. Imagine a Horrible Bosses based around the current scandal engulfing NewsCorp. and the Murdoch empire, or even the recent banks in crisis, or what about the bosses at Enron – now they were horrible bosses – not to mention ripe material for comedy. As it is, Horrible Bosses will disappear into irrelevance and the general ho-hum catalogue of Hollywood’s recent comedy efforts. Which is a shame, because somewhere in here, probably before any studio execs got involved, was the opportunity for a smart relevent satire instead of the illogical broad slapstick we’re left with.
Film Rating – 2 out of 5.