Wednesday, November 26, 2014
“Horrible Bosses” (*** OUT OF ****) is hilarious hokum from fade-in to fade-out. Of course, this imaginative but complicated, R-rated comedy of errors about premeditated murder is not for everybody. If you can tolerate neither profanity nor homicide, then this laugh-fest may not be appropriate fare. Conversely, if you have or have had a boss who deserved a slow but tortuous death, “Horrible Bosses” could make your laugh rather than wallow in homicidal fantasies. The biggest joke of “Horrible Bosses,” which lives up to its title, is that the heroes are hopelessly clueless. Imagine a parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” except the wannabe killers lack the nerve to go for the jugular. At the same time, most Hollywood thrillers feature one chief villain, but “Horrible Bosses” boasts three. Two are male, but one is female, while our protagonists are all men. Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman of “Juno”), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day of “Pacific Rim”), and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis of “Hall Pass”) suffer the agonies of the damned as they tangle hopelessly with their respective bosses, Dave Harkin (Kevin Spacey of “Superman Returns”), Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S. (Jennifer Aniston of “Rock Star”), and Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell of “Miami Vice”). Clearly the worst of the three, Harkin qualifies as a venomous sadist with a streak of misanthropy. He takes special pleasure in ridiculing everybody without mercy. At one point, he tells Nick, “Life is a marathon, and you cannot win a marathon without putting a few band-aids on your nipples, right?” Nick confides in his friends that working for Harken is like working for the Antichrist. When he isn’t terrorizing poor Nick, Harken believes that his wife Rhonda (Julie Bowen of “Amy's Orgasm”) is having sex with everybody but him. Incidentally, Rhonda is probably cuckolding Harken because she has bathroom sex with Kurt during Harken’s surprise birthday party.
While Harken represents one kind of ignoble boss, Julia Harris embodies another version. Aniston plays a sexy but unscrupulous dentist who takes advantage of her male dental assistant, Dale, because he is a sex offender. Talk about weird stuff. Dale was arrested while he was urinating on a playground in the middle of the night so he has to register himself as a sex offender. Finding a job proved difficult for him until he entered Julia’s naughty world where she could dominate him. She takes advantage of him repeatedly. Initially, when he was a patient, she took incriminating photos of him in sexual positions with her while he was still under the effects of medication. She uses these photos to blackmail him into becoming her sexual slave and he has to put up with her unwanted advances. Meanwhile, Sudeikis deals with a total swine of a boss who is a cokehead. Colin Farrell stretches the most as an actor here because he looks nothing like evil Bobby Pellitt. Bobby hasn’t liked Kurt from the start because Kurt and Bobby’s father, Jack (Donald Sutherland of “M.A.S.H.”), were such close friends. Jack had planned to pass the family business onto Kurt, but Jack died unexpectedly from a heart attack so Bobby inherited the business and drives Kurt up the wall. Bobby is such a cheapskate that he kept his father desk plate but put his name over his father's name!
After our woebegone protagonists have put up with far too much abuse from their horrid superiors, they find an African-American, Dean 'MF' Jones (Jamie Fox of “Miami Vice”), who is on parole. One of the running jokes is the use of Dean’s profane nickname that our heroes use without a qualm. .Anyway, ‘MF’ refuses to commit the killings for them, but he agrees to serve as their murder consultant for $5000. At the time, our foolish protagonists believed that ‘MF’ spent 10 years in the big house for murder. One of the surprises of “Horrible Bosses” is that Dean wasn’t a murderer. He went to a jail because the authorities caught him in a movie theater with a video camera recording a film! Nevertheless, ‘MR’ tells our hapless trio: “Most killers are first-timers. You wanna pull off a brilliant murder; you gotta act like it’s an accident. Failed brakes, gas leaks, suicide. You do it right, you ain’t even gotta be there when it goes down.” Sounds like ‘MR’ saw the Charles Bronson hitman movie “The Mechanic” because the Bronson character staged each hit as if it were an accident. Hendricks remains skeptical about MR’s advice: “Sounds like Scooby-Doo. How are we supposed to fake three accidents?” Our heroes are naturally disappointed by ‘MF’s lack of participation. According to ‘MF,’ they must “stalk their prey.” Second, he continues: “Gotta be smart. Find out where they live, find out their habits. What’s their hobbies?” Nevertheless, ‘MR’ warns them if they have motives that the ‘popo’ will find them. Nick points out, “We all have clear motives for killing our bosses, . . .so this is not gonna work. This is garbage.” ‘MF’ suggests they “kill each other’s bosses.” This is when Kurt alludes to Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Dale hasn’t seen “Strangers on a Train,” but he has seen the Danny DeVito movie “Throw Momma from a Train.” “We kill each other’s bosses, there’s no link to us,” Kurt observes. During this part of the process, comedy galore ensues, particularly while Hendricks and Buckman are in Dave Harken’s house, and dimwitted Dale sits parked outside the house, acting at their look-out. Harken surprises the unsuspecting Dale after the latter has littered on his street and reprimands him for littering until he catches a whiff of the peanuts. Harken collapses like a sack of potatoes, unconscious on the pavement. Dale saves Dave’s life without realizing who Dave is. Dave’s wife Rhonda happens to come along and rejoices at Dale’s timely intervention. Naturally, the suspicious Harken suspects that Dale and Rhonda had arranged to meet each other for an exchange of sexual favors. One of the funniest surprises involves the connection between Harken and Pellitt. While Nick is maintaining surveillance at Pellitt’s residence, Harken shows up and shoots Pellitt several times and leaves without spotting Nick.
Altogether, “Horrible Bosses” never stops spouting jokes. Indeed, things are a little extreme, but that is to be expected for a comedy. Jason Bateman gets to play another schmuck and he is a past master at playing schmuck. He wears a straight face and never lets on that he is in on the joke. Meantime, each of the villains receives their just comeuppance. Director Seth Gordon and his scenarists do an exemplary job of foreshadowing what occurs later. Donald Sutherland’s cameo as Kurt's boss is too brief but it fits in with the timeline. One other character, who appears to be around simply as a sick one-note joke, Kenny Sommerfeld (P.J. Bryne of “29 Palms”), actually figures prominently in Julia’s comeuppance. The ending with Nick—as president of the company--meeting his new boss, Mr. Sherman (Bob Newhart), in the parking lot, is hysterically funny. “Horrible Bosses” is a funny movie.