It hasn’t been much of a summer for movies, but I suspect we may have just turned a corner. In addition to being, I think, the first picture of the season to deliver precisely what it promises, Horrible Bosses is also by far its funniest.
Bad Teacher aspired to the degenerate lunacy of the Billy Bob Thornton milestone Bad Santa and failed to make the grade. The creators of Larry Crowne attempted to mine the current economic climate for laughs and came up empty-headed. Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) is a filmmaker nowhere near as well known as the people involved with those projects, yet he pulls off both tricks with apparent ease.
Of course, he gets a little help from an able and appealing cast. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day play pals who share a problem. The people they work for are making their lives miserable. What’s more, they’re doing so with impunity because they aren’t worried about anybody quitting while the unemployment rate slinks toward 10 percent.
Each protagonist is in a distinct hell. Bateman slaves for a financial company overseen by Kevin Spacey in full Swimming With Sharks mode. “I own you. You are my bitch,” the boss growls after withdrawing a big promotion he’d dangled. “Get used to it. You’re in for the long haul.”
Sudeikis is an account manager at a chemical company whose beloved founder (Donald Sutherland) has recently died, leaving his depraved, coke-fiend spawn in charge. One of the movie’s tastiest treats is Colin Farrell’s metamorphosis into a beady-eyed sleazebag with a comb-over. It’s a thing of bizarro beauty. Sudeikis’ character is no tree hugger, but he finds it difficult to stand by and watch Farrell fund his drug habit by dumping toxic waste in Bolivia.
Which leaves Day, whose workplace woes earn him minimal sympathy. His albatross takes the form of a wildly oversexed dentist played with gleeful abandon by Jennifer Aniston. He’s a hygienist who just wants to keep it clean at the office, but every day seems to find a more voracious and scantily clad employer waiting to pounce on him as soon as their patient has gone under. If you’ve ever seen an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” you can appreciate the surreal quality of her fixation with the fellow. If this were a Hangover sequel — though, in a way, I suppose any movie like this is — he’d be played by Zach Galifianakis.
The film’s ads and trailers cover this ground, along with the fact that the three friends reach a snapping point and decide to do some terminating of their own. Movie-critic law prohibits my revealing much more, except to add that, not being natural-born killers, they elect to outsource their dirty work. This sets in motion a series of misunderstandings, blunders and twists that escalates in unpredictable loopiness and raunch right to the closing credits — which themselves are funnier than most comedies released this summer.
It begins with a scene in a seedy LA bar. Jamie Foxx is a hoot and a half as a math-challenged ex-con who agrees to act as the trio’s “murder consultant.” He’s almost as bad at murder as he is at numbers, but he does put forward one inspired idea: To avoid suspicion, each friend should off another’s boss, “like Strangers on a Train.” “Yeah, I know that movie,” concurs Day. “The one with Danny DeVito.”
Which is funny on at least a couple of levels. First, confusing a Hitchcock classic with Throw Momma From the Train is funny. Second, DeVito is Day’s TV costar. Did the film’s writers plan that? Was it a brilliant ad lib — like much of the movie’s dialogue? Either way, it’s funny stuff, and just one of many unhinged touches guaranteed to help Horrible Bosses make a well-earned killing.