Judge Patrick Bromley is a horrible assistant to the assistant manager.
Ever wish your boss were dead?
Facts of the Case
Nick (Jason Bateman, Juno) hates his boss, a smarmy, controlling a-hole (played by—who else?—Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects). Kurt (Jason Sudekis, Hall Pass) hates his boss, a coked-up douche (Colin Farrell, Miami Vice) running his father's company into the ground. Dale (Charlie Day, Going the Distance) hates his boss, an overly aggressive dentist (Jennifer Aniston, Friends with Money) who won't stop sexually harassing him. So, the three best friends do what anyone in a no-win situation at work would do: they hire a "murder consultant" (Jamie Foxx, Due Date) to advise them on how to kill their bosses.
2011 is likely going to go down as the summer of the R-rated comedy. Four of the five adult-only comedies released this summer were massive hits, all crossing the $100 million mark in domestic grosses alone (only The Change-Up, released near the summer's end, bombed in a big, bad way). And while The Hangover Part II was easily the most successful and Bridesmaids probably the best, I'd be willing to call Seth Gordon's Horrible Bosses the happiest surprise. It will be no one's idea of a new classic, but I sure was pleased when it turned out to be a lot funnier than I ever thought it would be. I supposed it's just a matter of adjusting expectations.
What makes the movie work is the cast, plain and simple. The screenplay by Mark Markowitz, John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks!) and Jonathan Goldstein has its moments, and their contributions obviously should not be ignored. But the movie is also a sloppy mess, narratively speaking, and all too derivative of several other sources (the most obvious being Strangers on a Train, which is part of the whole gag). The funniest moments in the movie are the asides and throwaway jokes, several of which feel improvised and sold like hell by the team of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day. Like Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses understands that you just need to have funny people and allow them to be funny for a comedy to work—even modestly at best. You don't necessarily need to pile on the physical gags and pratfalls and misunderstandings and bodily fluid ingestions (there is certainly a place for all of those elements in comedy [save maybe the latter], but it's becoming harder and harder to find any that do those well). It may be difficult to buy that the three stars all went to high school together, since there seems to be about a 15-year difference between Bateman and Day, but it's the movies and suspension of disbelief and all of that. The point is that everyone in the movie, from the three put-upon leads to the Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey as the colorful bosses, is well cast and very funny. I haven't even mentioned my favorite character, Jamie Foxx as Motherf#*@er Jones, who steals the few scenes in which he appears and has a great back story.
Honestly, if Horrible Bosses needs more of anything, it's the actual horrible bosses—maybe not so much Spacey, who actually winds up being a little overused (though I'm probably just reacting that way because I'm including the two decades he's played this same character as part of his screen time), but Aniston and Farrell for sure. It isn't simply because they're funny—they are, especially Farrell—but because the movie should keep reminding us what is at stake. For us to sympathize with these guys, we need to understand their situations beyond some first-act establishing scenes. It's also set up very early that Charlie Day's character just wants to be married and that Aniston's advances are threatening his relationship with his wife-to-be, but that's forgotten early on, too. Since it's not really his job that's on the line (the way it is with Bateman and Sudekis), the movie needs to stay with the idea that his relationship is in jeopardy. Instead, we're left with the idea that Aniston is hitting on him and he doesn't want her hitting on him, so let's kill her. Am I alone in feeling like Aniston's scenes where shot completely independently of the rest of the movie?
Maybe these seem like minor complaints, especially when talking about a comedy. But these are the kind of things that hamper Horrible Bosses from a narrative perspective and hold it back from being a really good movie on top of being really funny. The movie works, but in spite of itself.
The Blu-ray of Horrible Bosses offers to different versions of the movie: the 98-minute theatrical cut and a 106-minute "extended cut." The longer version doesn't really add in anything significant, just additional character bits and a few jokes; while it's worth checking out as a curiosity, it overstays its welcome. The theatrical cut is the better, tighter, preferred version and the one I'll be returning to in the future. Both versions are presented in a full 1080p HD transfer and 2.40:1 widescreen that looks very good: good detail and a filmic look that doesn't strip away the grain with artificial noise reduction. This is a dark movie (in appearance; less so in tone, despite what you might think), and the Blu-ray does a good job with the contrast overall. Every once in a while, there is some crushing with the black levels and things run together a little, but it's a very minor issue. The movie looks great for the most part. The 5.1 lossless audio track handles the rapid-fire dialogue with ease, but doesn't offer the most imaginative mix, leaving most of the activity in the front center channel.
Where Horrible Bosses disappoints the most is in the special features department, which is a letdown. In addition to the extended cut of the movie, the Blu-ray comes with about 10 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, a featurette highlighting bad work experiences with the cast ("My Least Favorite Career"), another featurette on dealing with a bad boss ("Surviving a Horrible Boss"), some interviews with the actors playing the bosses ("Being Mean is So Much Fun") and a making-of for the soundtrack (that's right). No commentary, no outtakes, nothing else. A standard definition DVD copy and a digital copy are also included.
Even though it's about awful people and murder, Horrible Bosses seems reluctant to go too dark. While that's probably the right call in making it appeal to mass audiences (and it worked; the movie banked), it may disappoint those of us looking for the next great black comedy. Still, the movie has a lot of great jokes and excellent comic performances across the board. It's neither the showiest comedy of 2011 nor is it the best, but it's still very deserving of your attention.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Theatrical Version
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.