Horrible Bosses is an instant classic. It’s also a prime example of great casting, chemistry of an ensemble, and the proper way to balance the tone and tempo of a comedy. Not only does Seth (King of Kong, Four Christmases) Gordon’s movie never go more than a minute without a funny beat, big laugh, or great character moment it juggles a wide variety of jokes which lends it incredibly broad appeal without sacrificing integrity. In terms of consistency I can only recall Anchorman [a top ten comedy for me] having this much bang for the buck.
The movie also juggles a handful of established comedic subgenres extremely well, wisely letting the currently lucrative spillover from The Hangover take center stage though better and more timeless films like Swimming with Sharks, The Ref, and Ruthless People also share an indirect lineage. Luckily, Horrible Bosses isn’t some smash-up of existing films and in fact even the Hangover comparison is unfair. It’s its own movie with an energy all its own.
The premise involves a trio of friends reaching a breaking point in their inescapable job situations to the point that they plan to kill their bosses. For the betterment of the world of course. It’s such a heightened premise and handled so softly (this is not a comedy with a real mean streak despite the black comedy concept) that it never feels like these people are bad, just a little lost. It helps cut what could have easily turned them into difficult people to root for. Adding to the lunacy is the concept that someone like Charlie Day’s Dale could be sexually harassed by the delightfully flirty Jennifer Aniston or that Colin Farrell’s coke-fueled antics could actually happen in the work environment of Jason Sudeikis’ Kurt. It’s ridiculous and exaggerated to a pinpoint. The movie dances on that line between the absurd and offbeat in a manner some could judge as noncommittal but as a mainstream comedy it works wonders. If handled a little less deftly these characters at times would be flat out racist. Or vile. Instead, the whole thing is always fun and able to play in a much bigger comedic sandbox.
It helps that every single major role has been cast and performed to perfection. Charlie Day is going to blow up because of this role, somehow riding on his shrill and manic delivery to a place where he knocks nearly every joke home without wearing out his welcome. Some of the biggest moments are his and there’s no denying that he gets the most fun. Jason Bateman is always saddled with the straight man role in films like these but he gets some great moments all his own and when the proceedings threaten to go too over the top he’s there to pull things back to whatever semblance of reality the film needs to keep its audience invested. The surprise is how funny Jason Sudeikis is. He was surprisingly good in Hall Pass but here he’s surprisingly strong both in presence and in his character’s ability to adapt as the film moves forward. Their chemistry is fantastic and it’s amazing how many great jokes get buried under other great jokes. The second viewing brought a handful of great laughs I totally missed the first time around. This is a comedy that improves on repeat viewing and as most of you know, that is the true sign signifying the difference between a decent flick and a classic one.
Luckily the protagonists are matched perfectly by their opponents. Jennifer Aniston is going to surprise a lot of people both by how well she pulls off this lunatic seductress but also in her ability to carry a comedic scene. She’s a veteran of comedy but this is a new facet to her repertoire and folks are going to be astonished by the words that come out of her mouth and how well she sells them. A great casting decision that is key to the whole film working. Kevin Spacey is in very familiar turf and he pulls it off as he did in his heyday. He’s not outright funny but he is menacing and dangerous, which once again keeps the film grounded when it needs to be. Colin Farrell is a revelation here, with a hilarious look that is funny before he even utters a word but when coupled with the lunkheaded and abusive delivery he has chosen, it’s astonishingly funny. One caveat is that his character would have benefited from a little more screentime [stay for the credits if you want to see him uncork a series of great improvs].
Jamie Foxx reminds us just how great he is when he doesn’t take himself too seriously and by the far the biggest laugh of the movie for me involved his criminal past [it’s a little joke that seemed to speak directly to me and I missed the next minute of film]. He conveys needed menace but he cuts it with this uncertainty and slyness that plays so well off the leading men’s ignorance and racial profiling which pays off really nicely. Six roles cast to perfection with a script that gives them plentiful opportunities to be very very funny. It really puts things in perspective in comparison to other recent offerings that don’t fully commit to the jokes. In 2011 we’ve already had this and Bridesmaids, two very special comedies.
Best yet, this film does the unthinkable in a modern comedy: it doesn’t wimp out in the third act and try to teach the protagonists a moral lesson. So many comedies in today’s age feel the need to to adhere to some unwritten structural law to tidy things up and teach the characters a little and it robs so many films of precious momentum that it drives me batty. Horrible Bosses starts strong, stays strong, and finishes strong and it makes up for any little hiccups along the way. It’s well-written, well directed, and well acted and considering this is a product of folks like Brett Ratner and Seth Gordon and writers Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley (of Freaks and Geeks!), and Jonathan Goldstein one can add hope to the genre thanks to names other than Apatow and McKay and Hill.
It may not be fierce enough to grab folks expecting the next great black comedy but as far as consistency, quality and variety of jokes, performances, and rewatchability this is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a very long time. There’s laughs for all shapes and sizes and colors and they never come at the expense of the story or the intelligence of the audience. In short, a modern classic.
Add Horrible Bosses to the list of absolutely great comedies we’ve been given in the past ten years. Movies like In the Loop, Anchorman, Pineapple Express, In Bruges, and Borat. The difference is, this one ought to appeal to the fans of all those movies. That’s a really hard feat to pull off and it does it with a confidence and looseness that ought to be a beacon to the next wave of ensemble comedies.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars