Kevin Spacey in Horrible Bosses
By Bernie Jablonski
Despite the incessant number of times I saw the TV commercial for HORRIBLE BOSSES, I still found quite a few surprises in this well-paced, well-acted farce. The sad truth is, though, that I would have enjoyed it even more if I didn’t know the punchlines to so many of the film’s scenes, but that would be something only attainable in a perfect world,(as if this were news, right?). Even though it screeches to a halt, an abrupt denouement is sometimes more welcome than one all tied up with a bow and the “appropriate” music to see us out.
Three men are under the thrall of horrible bosses. Nick, played by the ever-reliable Jason Bateman, is, or so he thinks, in line for a promotion from his boss (Kevin Spacey), who manipulates Nick in order to wring every iota of work out of him, but ultimately rewards himself with the job (along with a mere 85% of the new salary, and the annexation of the new job’s office to his own). Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is happy at his job at a chemical company and is close to his benevolent boss (Donald Sutherland, always welcome, even in trash, which this is not). Kurt is pretty much the surrogate son of Sutherland’s character, which enrages his actual son (Colin Farrell), a self-indulgent cokehead. When Sutherland dies, and Farrell becomes head of the company, he starts to inflict irrational demands on Sudeikis. Dale (Charlie Day, a somewhat more tolerable version of Zach Galifianakis), a dentist’s assistant, is engaged to a beautiful woman despite his checkered past, but is now the target of the sexually inappropriate dentist he works for (one may wonder whyhe’s such a target, but never mind).
Through some humorous situations, the three friends ultimately decide that the only way around a problem is through it, and start making plans in earnest to kill their bosses. Realizing that important jobs, (like cleaning your house and getting a haircut) are best left to professionals, they hire a professional hit man. When this attempt fails (it’s one of the few episodes in the movie where scatological excess seems out of place), they happen upon an assassin with an unprintable first name, played by Jamie Foxx. He soon feels safer being the men’s “murder consultant,” and borrowing from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, suggests that they each kill each other’s boss.
The nice thing is that even though we know all of the above from the previews, the movie takes rather surprising turns from this point on. And even though all this exposition takes time, it is well-written and well-paced, and we never find ourselves getting impatient for the movie to “really” get started. Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day are also in a far more enjoyable piece than anything featuring three good actors in any movie with the word “hangover” in the title. Even though the characters are easy to distinguish from each other (a straight-arrow, a ladies’ man, and…Charlie Day), they are not totally stereotypical, and are empathetic.
What else is nice is the fact that even though the bosses are hissably bad, they are not strictly one-note, mustache-twirling villains. Spacey gets the most screen time of the three, and although his corporate bastard is capable of unspeakable cruelty, Spacey never loses track of the humor. His timing is impeccable and seems to come from the character, rather than merely from a gifted actor effortlessly tossing off his lines. Aniston is surprising (or would be, if it weren’t for those damned commercials) as the provocative, insatiably sex-hungry dentist. She delivers her lines with conviction and abandon, destroying every “good girl” image that FRIENDS or anything else has ever generated about her. It would be easy to say that her performance is a revelation, but that honor really belongs to Farrell as the totally unqualified drug addict that inherits the boss’ chair. Whatever sort of smoothness or even good looks he displayed in say, MIAMI VICE or CRAZY HEART is gone here, replaced by dumpiness and an uncontrollable ego. Spacey has certainly gone the evil route before, and he’s a master at it, but Farrell and Aniston gleefully jump in feet first and create bosses that you, too, might consider killing.
In your wildest dreams, of course.
Bernie Jablonski teaches Mass Media and Film Study in the Fine Arts Department at Marian Catholic High School.