I’ll begin this week’s column on a couple rare personal notes: First, a thank-you to my readers for the influx of positive feedback lately — online and even in person. So much of what I do is seeped in negativity that it’s extraordinarily gratifying to know that my endless toiling in the gulag that is the modern multi-plex is appreciated. Special shout-outs go to Dana DeMoulin, Heather Louise, Stephen Wiebe and “Alex C.” for their humbling words. But bless you every one.
On a more bittersweet (and ironic, given the subject of this review) note, I wish to salute our outgoing news editor, Brian “Voodoo” Craig. Voodoo has been my very good friend and mentor for the past nine years on the News-Sentinel copy desk, and I am not giving in to hyperbole when that I say he was not only the best boss I’ve ever had, but indeed the best boss possible, even in a theoretical sense — infinitely capable, fair-minded and practical, and always helpful to his subordinates. Plus, he has the best drinking stories you’ll ever hear. Needless to say, he will be very sorely missed.
Perhaps it seems strange that a farcical comedy of errors should be the recipient of only the second four-star review I’ve given all year, and believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. “Horrible Bosses,” directed by Seth Gordon (of the exceptional comedic documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” and the probably less-than-exceptional “Four Christmases,” but let’s forget about that one for now, shall we?) and co-written by John Francis Daley (best known for his roles in “Freaks and Geeks” and “Bones”), does not have lofty ambitions.
It’s a hard-R comedy filled with more than its share of boundary-pushing humor and, admittedly, lapses in logic and plausibility. It is not concerned with filmic issues like editing and cinematography. It has but two goals: to engage you with its characters and their plight, and to make you laugh. That it succeeds so thoroughly on both counts leaves one no choice but to declare it some kind of mini-masterpiece of comic timing and momentum. Plenty of these sort of movies fulfill their roles and deliver the goods — “The Hangover, Part II,” “Bridesmaids” and (to a slightly lesser extent) “Hall Pass” are recent examples. But what sets “Horrible Bosses” apart is its sheer, delirious energy. There is not a dull moment to be had here, and it’s a perfect example of how top-tier direction, writing and performance can elevate even the most base concept to the level of what can only be described as art.
Meet Nick (Jason Bateman), a 40-something sad sack who has sacrificed eight years of his life only to discover that his cruel, psychopathic boss (Kevin Spacey) never had any intention of giving him the major promotion that he was implicitly promised, and in fact has forced Nick into a life of virtual slavery. Meet Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), who is relatively comfortable at his job until his boss dies of a heart attack and the painfully stupid, environmentally irresponsible, coke-addled son (Colin Farrell) takes over. Meet Dale (Charlie Day), a happily engaged dental technician whose man-eating boss (Jennifer Aniston) makes it her daily mission to rape him.
During a fateful night of drinking, the friends swap stories and reasonably surmise that each of their bosses is a prime candidate for justifiable homicide. They write off the discussion as a shared joke until things get so bad that they finally snap and decide to go through with their quarter-baked plan. Under the guidance of a hit man (Jamie Foxx, whose character boasts an instantly iconic name that cannot be repeated here), the trio plot to swap murders ala “Strangers on a Train” (or “Throw Mama From the Train,” if you’re so inclined) and kill each other’s bosses. As expected, complications and hilarity ensue.
Even beyond the writing, the key here is the cast. As the merry band of would-be murderers, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day make for very likable and relatable anti-heroes. Day, in what is sure to be his big-screen breakout after many gut-busting and Emmy-worthy years on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is particularly impressive with his frantic mix of good-guy charm and primal panic. As the bosses, Farrell (sporting a bald head and ceaselessly creepy vibe) and Aniston play against type to tremendous effect. But if there’s a standout here then it’s gotta be Spacey, whose corporate psycho is the best role he has appeared in for at least a decade.
This is a true return to form for an actor who, in the mid- to late-’90s, commanded the screen like nobody else in the industry before simply disappearing into a void of miscasting and general mediocrity. “Horrible Bosses,” at the very least, reminds us of what this two-time Oscar winner is capable of with the right material — and if you ask me, that in itself is a claim to greatness.
“Horrible Bosses” is rated R for pretty much every offense imaginable.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.