Why didn’t anybody warn me about Charlie Day? I’ve never watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so I’ve not really come into contact with his work until I saw Horrible Bosses. Which is where I discovered he has this irritating, one note thing going on. There’s a scene where Day and Jason Bateman accidentally get high on coke and I couldn’t figure out how coked-out Day was all that much different from normal shrieking, shrill Day.
But he’s not so bad, really. In the realm of irritating guys with no comedic range he’s affable enough. And so is the movie itself; Horrible Bosses is one of those comedies that gets by on a mix of likeable actors and being just funny enough. Nobody’s going to worry about busting a gut during the film but you’ll find a few hearty laughs, some strong chuckles and plenty of smile-worthy scenes.
It could almost be argued that Horrible Bosses’ general middle of the road, vanilla, just-good-enough nature is actually on purpose, a reflection of the lead characters’ own qualities. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis play three friends (they’re presented as high school buddies, which is frankly an unbelievable premise for their relationship. Maybe Day had Bateman as a teacher in high school) who are all flunkies at their jobs and who all end up hating their titularly horrible bosses enough to decide they want to kill them. They’re three ineffectual, middle class (in the worst, most spat-from-the-mouth-of-a-clove-smoking-bohemian sense of the word), pale white, useless men. And that’s largely the joke - these guys are just way too big a collective pussy to actually get a murder done. I don’t know if it’s a statement on the current condition of masculinity, but it’s definitely the main joke of the movie, represented in different iterations including Day’s fear of strongly sexual women, Bateman’s philosophy of being a stepping stone and Sudeikis’ general problems dealing with black people.
Luckily two of these three leads are really enjoyable, and once you get past the shrillness of Day’s performance he’s a nice enough guy as well. It’s on their backs that the film coasts, which is actually a pity since there are three great performances lurking in the horrible bosses. If the film had gone bigger with the bosses - say, made them actually horrible instead of just jackasses - this movie could have been much, much funnier. I wanted more bosses, less Charlie Day in the back seat of a car shouting (which I believe makes up 40% of the film’s running time).
Kevin Spacey reenacts his Swimming With Sharks performance, which is nice and at which he’s great, but unfortunately his character here is about half the asshole that he was in that seminal film. And while Colin Farrell is pretty funny in a bald wig as a coked up jerk off, he never gets to be as broad as he should. One of the film’s funniest moments is the reveal of Farrell’s hyper-douchebag home, and for a minute I thought Horrible Bosses would take off into something bigger and more fun, but it never did. And then there’s Jennifer Aniston, who is frankly smoking hot and sexy as Day’s sexually harassing boss. The disconnect here isn’t that being sexually harassed by a half-naked Aniston is bad (the film makes a convincing enough case for this) but that Aniston would even be harassing Day. I think Aniston’s the one who gets closest to really being horrible, to embracing the broadness of the possibilities.
But like the lead characters the film doesn’t want to go too dark or be too big. These are guys trying to fit into the world of Applebees and cubicles - Day’s character’s life goal is to be a husband, for Christ’s sake - and it feels like director Seth Gordon wants his film to fit into the same places. There’s a bunch of profanity but little that couldn’t be easily expunged for the TV audience (except for Jamie Foxx’s character’s name, Motherfucker Jones. I’m curious how that plays on TBS). The movie is competently executed, if directed with standard comedy flatness. The editing is a mess, though, with ADR lines thrown in over jarring cuts. Despite sloppy moment-to-moment editing the film’s pace works well enough; this is a movie with some energy, and along with the amiable leads and just-enough-jokes script (by Freaks and Geeks’ own John Francis Daley, working with Jonathan M. Goldstein, as well as Michael Markowitz) that’s enough to get a pass from me. I just wish that the film had the courage to be dark or dangerous or even weird.
The actor who gets to be closest to those things is Jamie Foxx as the aforementioned Motherfucker Jones. He ends up being the boys’ murder consultant, and even though he has only a few scenes Foxx just about steals the film. He has a great comedic menace, which is a tough quality to pull off.
Bateman is great, playing the Jason Bateman exasperated guy again. He’s sort of typecast as the less violent Moe Howard of suburbia, it seems to me, the ultimate irritated straight man. I think Bateman perfected this in Arrested Development, where he had a nice streak of self-righteousness to undercut it, but he doesn’t get that complexity here. Jason Sudeikis is almost dangerous in the film; he was my favorite part of Hall Pass for the same reason that I like him here, which is that he’s kind of a douchebag. He’s your douchebag buddy who is a bad influence, who gets you drunk and in trouble and then waves at you as the police car drives you away. He’s like Bradley Cooper if Bradley Cooper were less of a fucking jock.
Horrible Bosses is a bad name for the movie because the bosses aren’t the real focus, but it’s a great name for the movie because it’s sort of just this side of generic. You’ll laugh enough at Horrible Bosses to make it worth your time at the theater, but it’s too safe and middle of the road to be truly interesting.