Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses (2011)


There’s a moment when “Horrible Bosses” has a chance. It’s near the beginning of the film and Nick (Jason Bateman), arriving horribly early to work, is telling us in voice over about his family history. His grandmother, whom he’ll later call Gam-Gam to comic effect, came to this country with a few bucks and worked her entire life and wound up saving two thousand dollars. That sucks, he says. “The key to success,” he tells us, “is taking shit. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last eight years.”

Hey, I thought. Maybe we’ll get some interesting back-and-forth here on how to get ahead in America. Kissing ass? Hard work? Ruthlessness? Connections? Luck? Why do some get ahead and others do not?

Then Nick adds: “The only hitch: I work for Dave Harken.”

Ah, I thought. Less systemic, more personal. Too bad.

There’s another moment, actually, when things might’ve worked out, too.

Our trio of dudes, Nick, Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), are lamenting their current states of employment at the local pub. Nick’s boss, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) strings Nick along on a promotion, getting him to work weekends and apologize for coming in “late” at 6:02 a.m., then, a la Dick Cheney, gives himself the promotion. In the movie’s parlance, he’s the TOTAL FUCKING ASSHOLE boss. Dale’s boss, Dr. Julia Harris, (Jennifer Aniston), a dentist, sexually harasses him (she’s EVIL CRAZY BITCH), while Kurt’s boss, after his company’s kindly patriarch, Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland), passes away, is Jack’s son, Bobby (Colin Farrell, in comb-over mode), who wants to fire fat people, do blow off hookers, and run the company into the ground. He’s DICKHEAD COKEHEAD SON.

Over drinks, our trio decide they should find new jobs.

That’s when they run into Kenny Sommerfeld (P.J. Byrne), a high school classmate who went on to Harvard and a big career at Lehman Bros. Kenny greets them happily, then talks up his current situation, which, years after the Lehman collapse, which was the bellwether for our current economic collapse, is still without work. Then he asks for money. They’re kind; they actually give it to him. But he says it’s not enough. So if they ante up more, he’ll take them into the bathroom for blowjobs. They’re shocked and appalled, he’s pleasantly insistent, but finally he’s shooed from the bar—a known nuisance, unknown by his former classmates who frequent the joint.

The scene is shorthand for how bad the job market is and how stuck each of our protagonists are in their current crappy jobs with their current horrible bosses. It’s played for laughs—this is a comedy, after all—and it is funny...ish. But it’s not meaningful because it’s not relatable.

What a missed opportunity. I know quite a few people who are stuck in crappy jobs, and/or with horrible bosses, so, if anything, the movie should be relatable. Why isn’t it? Because it’s a slapsticky, pushing-the-same-damned-envelope comedy about hapless attempts at revenge on three caricatures rather than three human beings. It pretends to be about here and now but it isn’t. It pretends to be about you and me but it isn’t.

Admittedly, some things in the movie work.

I like the way the revenge plot comes about: haphazardly. They joke about it over drinks, then different characters take turns carrying it until suddenly it solidifies. It becomes a thing before the characters know it’s a thing.

I like the fact that, for all their angry talk, none has it in him to kill anyone.

Jamie Foxx has a good cameo but the racial stuff there feels old.

We get a few laugh-out-loud lines (“I can’t walk around this neighborhood with that Disney-ass name”), and some great line readings, particularly by Bateman (Nick: “I was drag-racing.” Cop: “In a Prius?” Nick [Pause]: “I don’t win a lot.”).

But “Horrible Bosses” doesn’t mean anything because it’s not about anything. The bosses aren’t really bosses and the friends aren’t really friends. After it was over, I wasn’t amused or angry; I didn’t feel cheated or uplifted. It contained just the right ingredients to make me feel nothing at all.

—July 19, 2011

© 2011 Erik Lundegaard