by M. Faust
Is there an audience who will pay to hear Jennifer Aniston talking dirty? I wouldn’t say no, but that’s mostly because I don’t understand what her fan base is in the first place. Okay, she was on a hit TV series that ended seven years ago. But she’s done no movie work of any significance, and as far as I can tell she has become the new Elizabeth Taylor, a face the tabloid magazines just can’t let go of even though she’s long since ceased doing anything of any note. (At least Liz worked for charity.)
But if that’s how you want to spend your movie bucks, who am I to tell you no? As one of the titular trio of evil employers, she dresses in form-fitting uniforms as a sex-crazed dentist whose incessant sexual harassment makes life a living hell for her hygienist Dale (Charlie Day). She delivers endless come-ons that sound like they were written by 13-year-old boys, the same group likely to find this titillating while ignoring how implausible it is.
Dale’s pals have somewhat better reason to hate their bosses. Nick (Jason Bateman) works for a corporate martinet (Kevin Spacey) who dangles a promotion over his head for months and threatens to ruin his career if he takes his skills to another employer. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) loves his boss, an environmentally conscientious paper mill owner whom we know will die before the end of the first reel because he’s played by Donald Sutherland. When he does, the plant is taken over by his coke-snorting son Bobby (Colin Farrell in the weirdest performance of his career), who is happy to get a few extra bucks by shipping the plants’ toxic wastes to the Brazilian rainforest.
Clearly, these three have to die.
Okay, what’s really clear is that our milquetoast heroes will never be able to commit murder. That would require a comedy much darker than anyone involved with Horrible Bosses is capable of making, one that would cut too close to the bone of modern American life. (It’s no surprise that Donald E. Westlake’s novel The Ax, about a downsized executive who systematically identifies everyone who could be up for a new job he needs and murders them, has never been filmed in the US, though Costa-Gavras filmed it in France as Le couperet in 2005.)
So in the place of anything even remotely subversive, Horrible Bosses tries to squeeze humor out of the most banal possible situations, most of them involving the failings of middle-class white guys. Three middle-class white guys walk into a ghetto bar and meet a guy named Motherfucker Jones—are you laughing yet? (I did laugh at Mr. Jones’ admission that his real first name was “Dean.”) Middle-class white guys accidentally inhale a mess of cocaine. Middle-class white guys use a lot of uncomfortable profanity they learned from watching movies. And so on.
In their defense, our stars are good at doing three-part crosstalking, which can be amusing even when the dialogue itself isn’t very funny (which is most of the time). But when you have two performers as bland (if talented) as Bateman and Sudeikis, you need a wild card to balance them out, and Day (star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is merely shrill, with a high-pitched voice that is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
The writers and director of Horrible Bosses are all from TV sitcoms, and it shows. You’d do better to watch Office Space for the 15th time; you can even get your Jennifer Aniston fix from it.
Watch the trailer for Horrible Bosses
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