This review was originally published on July 8, 2011. It is being reposted for the DVD/Blu-ray release.
In last year’s “Going the Distance,” Charlie Day plays the idiot friend of Justin Long and Jason Sudeikis, and he steals the movie. Now, in “Horrible Bosses,” he’s back as the idiot friend of Jason Bateman and, again, Jason Sudeikis. But he has a very hard time stealing scenes this time because he’s given so much competition. You see, he’s less an exaggerated moron in the world of “Bosses,” because every single character in the movie is an idiot. He’s only slightly dumber in such a saturation of stupidity, and it’s upsetting as both a fan of Day and a usual appreciator of stupidity humor (“The Jerk” was alluded to in my wedding, after all). For this kind of comedy to work, you can’t have everyone seem like they hail from the planet Spengo (from “Mom and Dad Save the World”) without at least one ambassador to the audience, like an Alice in Wonderland (not so much a place of morons as a land of the absurd, but the point is still the same) or a Luke Wilson in the future of “Idiocracy.”
The closest thing we have to that here is two very minor characters, both played by actors from “The Wire” (Wendell Pierce, basically playing Bunk, and Chad L. Coleman, basically playing Cutty if he now ran a bar instead of a gym), who we assume are smarter than the rest simply based on the twitch of their face, signifying a non-verbal expression of, “are you really that stupid?” in response to our three protagonists. But perhaps we just don’t get enough time with them. While there is a slight hierarchy of intelligence in “Horrible Bosses,” it’s hard to really label any one character as intelligent. Day of course comes from the TV series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a comedy about five idiots, each dumber than the next, but that quintet is especially outrageous because of the sane and logical characters they interact with around them. It’s all about perspective.
At least for a while in “Horrible Bosses” we think only the three leads are the morons while the other three major characters, their bosses, are as the title tells us, just horrible. And it’s this stupidity on the main trio’s part that adds to the desperation of their plan to kill those bosses. But that’s unnecessary if we’re to believe the plot is hinged on the recession-context notion that none of the men can simply quit their jobs because they’ll have trouble finding other work. Yes, it might be difficult, but not impossible for either Nick (Bateman) or Kurt (Sudeikis) to seek alternate employment in the meantime, in spite of the lie Nick is told by his boss (Kevin Spacey) about him needing a letter of recommendation. The logic there seems to come from a writer who’s never actually had a regular job, especially one he left for another.
If anything, these guys’ problem is not the recession, or even, as has been addressed elsewhere, their crushed senses of masculinity, so much as their lack of smarts. Apparently the three idiots landed otherwise decent jobs and are likely too dumb to be hired by anyone else. It’d be similar to when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly go job hunting together in “Step Brothers” (a stupidity comedy that works, again, due to its limited amount of stupid people contrasted against normal folk). Ironically, the dumbest of them, Dale, actually has another problem, that he’s a registered sex offender (accidentally) and so apparently can’t find work (in his field at least) because of that. Yet obviously he wouldn’t be helped in this matter through the murder of his sexually harassing boss if she’s the only person who’ll employ him. And no, she’s not a maneater; she’s clearly a moron too.
Okay, so there are some plot holes, primarily in the plot of the protagonists, but I’m certain the lack of logic on their part often comes from a lack of logic on the part of the three screenwriters (John Francis Daley, Michael Markowitz and Jonathan Goldstein). As does much of the sexism, homophobia, racism and inability to properly tell a joke without having to literally explain it to your audience (yes, we get the “Strangers on a Train” and “Throw Momma From the Train” mix-up right away). It’s also the kind of lazy writing that ignores reason in order to accommodate easy and incredibly predictable storytelling, the sort where a madman with a gun and a car chase must come into play, because situation comedy is harder to resolve without an explicit action climax (the same thing happened with “Hall Pass,” which also stars Sudeikis). As if the movie’s ultimate big villain would ever be so stupid as to do the villain-like things he does.
I’m fairly certain and confident, in spite of not seeing all of James Franco’s shorts, that “Horrible Bosses” is the worst script written by a regular from “Freaks and Geeks.” (Daley), yet. That includes “Blades of Glory,” which was cowritten by Busy Phillips. It’s also further lowered my appreciation for Seth Gordon, who made the remarkably entertaining documentary “King of Kong” and really needs to return to nonfiction (and not just as a producer of fluff like “Freakonomics” — though I did enjoy “Make Believe,” which he also produced). He’s basically the opposite of Nanette Burstein in my eyes, because she helmed three terrible docs before finding her place in romantic comedy with the underrated “Going the Distance,” while Gordon immediately showed us his proper place is with highly accessible documentary and yet then moved to awful comedies like this and “Four Christmases.”
Don’t be stupid, Gordon, you can actually quit Hollywood and easily find good work. And you don’t even need to kill any studio execs.
“Horrible Bosses” is now on DVD and Blu-ray
Recommended If You Like: “The Hangover Part II”; “Hall Pass”; “9 to 5”