'Horrible Bosses': Very Guilty Pleasure
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The last thing "Horrible Bosses" is, honestly, is a good movie. In point of fact, it barely qualifies as a movie at all. It's a slapdash construction that substitutes (largely faked) bile and resentment for actual character development and story structure. It lifts most of its most resonant tropes and comic conceits from prior movies both semi-classic ("Office Space") and trivial ("Swimming With Sharks"). It has less than no redeeming social value when you come right down to it, and even less probability and/or credibility.
The loosely knit (to say the least) story of three male friends (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day), each burdened with a vexing supervisor, and their efforts to ease their on-the-job suffering by flirting with the assassination of the offending parties, taxes believability in an "Am I bugging you? I'm not touching you" fashion almost from the get-go. First there's the "why are these guys friends?" thing, rather familiar from the "Hangover" movies: Bateman's Nick is a high-finance drone, Sudeikis' Kurt works a factory floor, and Day's Dale is an underachieving dentist, that is, dental assistant. Yeah, they're buddies from college, but you know what? Buddies in college with such divergent life interests tend not to stay buddies after college all that long. This wouldn't be terribly irritating if it wasn't for the fact that no effort whatsoever is extended to make their friendship even the tiniest bit more than a construct to conveniently tie their individual narratives together.
As for said individual narratives: Nick's horrible boss is sociopath-leaning-toward-psychopath Dave (Kevin Spacey); Kurt's is Bobby (Colin Farrell), the aggressive loser cokehead son of the newly deceased company owner; and, most improbable of all, Dale's boss is one-note blackmailing nympho dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston), the last character a misogynist male fantasy so thoroughly beyond the pale of everyday existence that it could only have been concocted by Hollywood screenwriters.
The solution the frustrated three (although, naturally, the other two agree heartily that the problem employer Dale is up against doesn't sound so bad at all) come up with was also presaged by another film, "The Producers," e.g. the part when Leo says, "What are we gonna do, kill the actors?" Murder would seem to be the case, and for assistance, the unhappy-in-their-work fellows go to a very sketchy bar, where they hire a self-styled "murder consultant" (Jamie Foxx) who calls himself "Motherf---er Jones," at least in part on account of the fact that his actual name is Dean Jones, as in that square cat from the old Disney movies, and he's embarrassed by that.
The combination of unapologetic vulgarity and semi-obscure pop culture references pretty much sums up the level of wit at work -- think the gang in the early bar scene in "Knocked Up," only more bitter and not quite as smart -- and again, not good.
And yet, I'm rating "Horrible Bosses" pretty highly, as bad movies go, because it did make me laugh more than a few times. The humor does indeed come from a curdled place, but it's certainly not entirely inappropriate to the situation. And while the notion of any woman as attractive as Jennifer Aniston jonesing to get into the pants of any character incarnated by Mr. Day is risible in ways the filmmakers cannot have intended (and no, I don't care HOW mentally disturbed Aniston's character may or may not be: I still insist, no frigging way), the actress does her level best to convince us of this odd condition, and looks pretty damn fine while doing so. Spacey is admirably slimy reprising, more or less, his character from the aforementioned "Swimming With Sharks," and Farrell practically walks away with the film with his hyperactive, high-foreheaded walking meat puppet of crassitude. Their comic brio, and the way that Bateman, Sudeikis and Day clearly enjoy one another's company as performers, somehow keeps "Horrible Bosses" afloat for many of its blessedly brief 90 or so minutes. So if you're like me, you won't entirely hate it ... but you may hate yourself in the morning. I can't help you with that.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.