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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Horrible Bosses

 Horrible Bosses (Two Stars)

U.S.: Seth Gordon, 2011

There’s an ugly rumor going around that Horrible Bosses is a funny, clever movie. But if that’s true, I must have wandered into the wrong Multiplex theatre and seen some other horrible movie by mistake.

Maybe it’s just me. One person‘s laugh riot can be another person’s snore. And a number of reputable critics have pronounced thmeselves convulsed at this alleged laugh riot — which is about three buddies, beleaguered and persecuted by their intolerable bosses, who decide to strike back and murder them all in a three-cornered Strangers on a Train-style murder swap (at which they prove howlingly inept). But I really didn’t like it — and it  really didn’t make me laugh. (Well, to be truthful, it sort of  made me laugh, but only in the last half of the movie.) And that was despite strenuous efforts by director Seth Gordon (of Four Christmases) and his writers to supply taboo-shattering, darker-than-dark, politically incorrect, shock-the-pants-off-the-bourgeoisie humor, executed by three fairly funny guys (sly Jason Bateman, hysterical Charlie Day and gabby babe-hound Jason Sudeikis) and three talented actors as their mean bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell) — plus comedy ace Jamie Foxx, as a supposed whack advisor named Dean M—–F—-r Jones. (I repeat, with bleeps, Mr. Jones’s uncommon nickname, something his fictitious would-be employers also do incessantly, to give you a hint of the kind of politically incorrect comedy gems that await any s—–r who buys a ticket to this movie.

In Horrible Bosses, Bateman, Day and Sudeikis play, respectively, wary Nick Hendricks, scratchy-voiced Dale Arbus and smoothie Kurt Buckman, three old buddies who tend to meet and commiserate about their awful bosses at a local bar. By a fantastic coincidence — and fantastic coincidences are something this movie could not function without — all three of the chums have seen their hideous relationships with those unbearable bosses reach what the film’s writers seem to regard as the last f–k–g straw.

Bad Boss Number One is Spacey as the Machiavellian sadist-bully Dave Harken (played by Spacey in his best, acid Swimming with Sharks mold), who has denied Nick a long-awaited promotion after tricking him into drinking whiskey in the morning at work. Bad Boss Number Two is Aniston, wearing a Demi Moore hairdo, as randy dentist Dr. Julia Harris, who insists on trying to have frequent sex with her reticent dental assistant Dale, who wants to stay faithful to wife Lindsay Sloane (or maybe it was Jason Bateman). And Bad Boss Number Three is Farrell as balding, combed-over, cocaine freak Bobby Pellit, who takes over the family business after the death of his good guy dad (Donald Sutherland), of whose eye Kurt was the apple, and announces his intentions of firing as many employees as he can while actively working to squander his inheritance, disgrace his father’s name and damage the environment.

So, the guys, after a few minutes’ discussion, decide to become murderers and risk a life in prison, to express their anger. And then they compound their idiocy, by trying to find a hit man on the Internet or in the want ads, and then hiring a complete stranger, Mr. M—–F—-r himself, after noticing him nursing drinks in a seedy bar. Now, what self-respecting idiot would do all that? Fortunately for our anti-heroes, their bosses prove about as stupid, or crazy, as they are, and, after complications galore, the movie sputters to its seemingly inevitable conclusion: a paean to dumb luck and cell-phone recorders.

So what did I dislike. The jokes obviously (though they’re sometimes smartly delivered). But most of all, the attitude. Horrible has the seed of a good idea: a comic attack on white collar workplace tyranny. (Director Gordon worked on “The Office.“) And these are bad bosses, except for Aniston‘s Dr. Julia, who looked to me like the answer to Dale‘s prayers. (After all, that part could have been written for Ken Jeong.)

But I felt little sympathy for these guys, and on some level, you’re obviously supposed to.  Many of us have had bad bosses — and we may even have entertained dark revenge fantasies.   But still, slimy and destructive and total f–k–g a–h—-s (To quote Horrible). as at least two of the bosses were here, I still found utterly mystifying the decision of our three star-comedian protagonists to kill them all, as well as the apparent belief of the filmmakers that we‘d all go along on some level with this homicidal insanity, without better explanations for it.

Even granting our crippled economy and the let’s-ride-off-the-cliff attitude of some of the nuttier members of the U.S. Co—-s, it still seems a better bet for these guys to just look for another job, or maybe better, to try to dig up a scandal that would get the bosses fired (in fact, scandals like that are all over the movie) rather than indulge in elaborate bone-headed murder schemes. I’m not saying that’s what the movie should have been about. I realize this is a movie about attempted murder goign awry, but the screenwriters need to overcome our resistance to what seems rampaging illogic. After, all it’s a scenarist’s job to make crazy decisions plausible. Here, they haven’t.

So Bobby Pellit is a coke-addled dimwit screw-up. (Farrell makes him almost visibly rot on screen.) But what does Kurt gain by murdering him: Kurt who first comes across not as an angry fanatic or an embittered employee but as a basically good-hearted guy and a cheerful lecher? Nick would seem to have some kind of motive for negative action against Harken — who has threatened to blackball him if he ever leaves the company — but a decision to kill still seems a serious deviation from Nick’s generally self-effacing, slightly devious character. And, as for dental guy Dale’s motive — wanting to avoid having the sexual advances of Jennifer Aniston (or a dentist who looks like Jen) by killing her — that struck me as about as plausible, and sympathetic, as whacking your boss, the billionaire, because he crudely insists on giving you all his money. (I realize Dale is trying to save his marriage, but murder one seems unlikely couples therapy.)

Horrible also fails to explain what kind of bosses the bad ones will be replaced by, once these unlikely murder schemes come on or off. And it also seems to forget the fact that in Strangers on a Train the murder swap conspirators (or seeming conspirators) were strangers — not longtime best buddies. That was the whole point.

Horrible Bosses tries to go the Coen Brothers-ish Blood Simple route, of showing how normally sensible people go stupid when they get involved with murder. But the movie never really, believably, projects these guys as having a normally sensible thought, or shows why they’ve escalated to thoughts of homicide so fast, why they’re so dumb that they try to hire a hit man on the Internet, or why they would spill their intentions to their “advisor,” Mr. M—F—r, after meeting him briefly in a rowdy bar. The way The Hangover finessed stuff like that — matching one dumb, off-the-wall guy (Galifianakis) with two slightly smarter ones (Cooper and Helms) — apparently didn’t occur to anybody, even though God knows, they’ve tried to steal enough else.

Then there’s the whole problem of being asked to sympathize, at least on some level, with characters who decide to kill people so easily, if stupidly. In fact, Horrible Bosses didn’t even seem potentially funny to me, until the last half, when some of the bosses began to reveal a more homicidal or criminal streak themselves. I suspect the movie would have worked better if the threesome had started out with more modest intentions: maybe just trying to tail their bosses to get some scandalous goods on them, to get them fired — and then somehow got sucked into a seeming murder plot, because one of them (Dale, naturally) is a little Zach-Galifianakis-crazy, and the other two think they’re kidding him along.

Maybe the writers here got all hung up on hit-man jokes, just as the writers of Bad Teacher (which also included “Office” veterans) got mired in bad-sexy-teacher gags, and wouldn’t let go. And just as the Horrible filmmakers apparently couldn’t stop themselves from copying H-ng—r: from jamming in all those quasi-racist, semi-misogynist, quasi-homophobic jokes. (Maybe Ken Jeong was the original Dr. Harris.)

Still, Horrible Bosses didn’t strike me as politically incorrect so much as comedically incorrect. It often helps, for a dark comedy, if there’s one character at least who’s somewhat moral, or somewhat sane, or well-meaning, or not wholly deranged. We often need that moral counter-balance, however small.  A great dark comedy — like the Ealing Studio The Ladykillers, or Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard or the Coens’ Fargo and The Big Lebowski or Kubrick‘s Lolita and Dr. Strangelove (greatest and darkest of them all) — can kid their “good“ character or characters, as Dr. Strangelove kids Mandrake, but not wholly eliminate them. Bateman’s Nick is the closest thing to that kind of half-sensible type here, but he gives in to the plot too easily.

Is Horrible Bosses at least timely? I hope not. And, believe me, there are some really horrible bosses around: maybe not as bad as Kevin Spacey‘s Dave Harken, but defiitely within a shark‘s swim of him.

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2 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Horrible Bosses”

  1. paul miller says:

    We just saw “Horrible Bosses”. It’s one of the worst movies we have ever seen!

  2. George Clooney says:

    Horrible Bosses was as bad as jennifer anniston is an actress. Shes just another prop w talent


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

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And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

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