Friday, July 8, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Revenge Of The Dim-Witted

From left to right: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis in "Horrible Bosses", Seth Gordon's comedy.
Warner/New Line

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
day, July 8, 2011

It's 2011, and you stand in the midst of the roughest recession since the Great Depression.  You are fortunate enough to have a job, though you don't particularly like your boss.  Work is work, and sometimes your boss drives you crazy -- but of course you wouldn't ever consider killing that person, would you?  Where would it get you?  What would you gain?  Seth Gordon's labored, repetitive and puerile comedy "Horrible Bosses" explores this foolhardy idea and its disastrous results.  The film opened across the U.S. and Canada today.

A trio of male friends have had it up to *here* with their superiors at work.  Dave (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis of "Hall Pass") respectively work at a corporation (under boss Kevin Spacey, who did this role better in "Swimming With Sharks"), a dentist office (under Jennifer Aniston, "Office Space") and a family business (under Colin Farrell.)  Bypassing their human resource managers and dental association complaint review boards, Dave, Dale and Kurt hatch a plan to murder their bosses.  Life, they agree, would be so much better if their bosses were out of their lives -- and everybody else's.  

Written by four screenwriters "Horrible Bosses" grabs at many comic archetypes and recycles those figures and their attendant situations into fabric that's already been worn on the big screen in vastly better comedies.  Granted, "Horrible Bosses" is laugh-out loud funny at times, but it's as funny as it is splendidly preposterous.  Its humor trades on the audiences' notion of what common sense isn't, rather than on how unfunny Dave, Dale and Kurt's misadventures really are.  If you removed its cursing and any semblance of comic timing, "Horrible Bosses" wouldn't be funny at all.  The film's laughter comes mainly from the way lines are delivered, not from what is said.  (The film virtually ignores the economic realities nipping at its edges and amplifies its own stupidity.)

In comedies we've seen the mistaken-for-pregnant lady before.  We've seen the ribbing a "foreign"-sounding name gets.  We've witnessed the unspoken assumptions about black people and criminal behavior and then a black character's rebuke of that assumption, as well as the nervous white character's attempt to make peace after being racially insensitive.  We've seen the drug-addled guy trying to make sense, too.  Nothing is new in "Horrible Bosses".  Everything is tired.  Many scenes are shot at night and look a little like the Los Angeles of Michael Mann's "Collateral", and sure enough, Jamie Foxx stops by in a hilarious bit as M.F. Jones, but even his narrowly drawn con-man character can't show The Three Dim-Wits the light or lead them to drink the water of common sense.

I'll freely confess that "Horrible Bosses", a tasteless film stuck in the eighth grade, made me laugh, and sometimes frequently, but it made me cringe and hiss as much at its nonsensical ideas and characters who have jobs but who should have been fired from them long ago, and from a comedy galaxy far, far away.  As much venom as Dave, Dale and Kurt have for their bosses, they themselves perhaps best personify why their bosses are so nasty to them.  The film could be re-titled, "Horrible Judges Of Character", because the three on-screen bosses who may have hired their avenging employees must have been as high on stupidity as this film is.

Comedy in today's Hollywood film has long been an amalgam of body orifice jokes and sight gags.  These days we have to see actual dollops of poop to be stimulated to laugh or rather, recoil in disgust.  Comedy in "Horrible Bosses" doesn't go quite this far to take its dutiful short cuts but it does dumb down to the lowest common denominator.  Mr. Gordon's escapist prank film delights in a subtext about a possibly bisexual male character who engages in sexually stereotypical behavior to gain laughs.  The same character also debates "who would be raped more" in prison.  So.  Very.  Funny.

"Horrible Bosses" has bouts of raunchiness, supplied by Ms. Aniston in the role of perpetual vamp-tramp.  As the dentist Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S. (don't those initials really mean d---, d---, s--k???) she lechers all over Dale, sexually harassing him at every turn, paying no never-mind to Dale's wife-to-be.  Mr. Gordon and company however, undercut any potential comedic edginess by having Ms. Aniston as the harasser as opposed to someone less attractive.  As serious and pervasive as sexual harassment is in the workplace (and as much as it is perpetrated by men and women of all types of beauty and ugly), the screenwriters know well that some men in this big wide world would presumably "love" (or fantasize about) being sexually harassed by Ms. Aniston, and accordingly, one character falls for the bait. 

In Mr. Gordon's film we also get prurient bits meant to appeal subconsciously to any private or deeply personal desires of the audience.  Inserting such bits don't raise the film's comedic or attempted subversive stakes but douses them, substituting ambition and comic audacity for laziness.  (It should be noted that the distance between the *whatever* of "Horrible Bosses" and the illogic of last year's "Cop Out" is not so comfortable.)

As Dave, Mr. Bateman ("The Switch", "Extract", "State Of Play") is the most serious of this comedy's three stooges, and at times looks as if he's about to explode and say, "alright, quit playing around, we're smarter than this!"  Indeed, each of the three leading male characters are, but to satisfy the film's raison d'être they override themselves.  They know that deep down what they're doing is pathetic; they throw caution to the wind.  Mr. Day gets the most mileage out of the hijinks on display and as Dale he's the mousiest malcontent you'll see in a comedy this year.  Mr. Sudeikis plays a blockhead who doesn't think with his brain.

What underlines "Horrible Bosses" is the notion that Dave, Dale and Kurt are miserable people, almost as miserable as the bosses they seek to eliminate.  The complaining trio spend so much time consumed by revenge.  (Where are the other less-risky outlets for them to offset their rage?)  Yes, I know "Horrible Bosses" is an intentionally silly comedy, but even its zigzag screenplay's articulations of the cardboard characters on parade are sketchy at best.  And sketches are assembled out of nothing, making for some odd, inconvenient moments that should have remained on the cutting room floor.  Unlike "The Hangover" there's no intelligence in this new film's comedy or its foolishness.

Call "Horrible Bosses" a "Hangover" for dummies, except that these three guys combined can't change a light bulb, and they aren't hung over.  Scary.

With: P.J. Byrne, Lindsay Sloane, Brian George, Julie Bowen, Wendell Pierce, Ioan Gruffudd, Ron White, Donald Sutherland.

"Horrible Bosses" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.  The film's running time is one hour and 40 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2011.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW

"movie reviews" via popcornreel in Google Reader