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Warner Bros. and New Line’s attempt to find out exactly where the bottom is for R-rated comedy these days results in Horrible Bosses, which probably isn’t horrible enough to excite younger viewers and will certainly not attract anyone else. Well, check that: The movie has a glittery cast that makes you wonder about the dynamics between actors and their representation, but that’s subject for somebody else’s head-shaking think piece. For a reviewer, the lameness of the gags and dialogue and the film’s frequent deep dives for the bottom at the expense of real comedy speak to desperation in Hollywood to figure out the audience for contemporary naughty comedy.
Certainly young people who love to party with filmmakers who are talented in raunchy comedy — say the Hangover crowd or Judd Apatow’s stock company — will look askance at older actors playing frat-brat characters that would make the Three Stooges look sophisticated. Horrible Bosses is clever counterprogramming, however, by going up against superheroes with super-idiots. But will that fly?
The film crossbreeds black comedy with raunchiness. Three yo-yos have horrible bosses. Salesman Jason Bateman is stuck with an abusive, sadist-psycho boss played by Kevin Spacey, who simply amps up his Swimming With Sharks character. Jason Sudeikis actually has a dream boss in Donald Sutherland, but Sutherland, having apparently read the script, has the good sense to die after one sequence, which leaves Sudeikis at the mercy of his boss’ coke-head, party-till-you-drop son (Colin Farrell).
A confession: You do not recognize Farrell in this caricature, and that might cue some people to think this one-note performance is a comedy classic. You know, the way someone might view an Edsel as a classic car.
The third horrible boss makes no sense. Poor Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia must somehow get through each day as a dental assistant to a potty-mouthed nymphomaniac played by Jennifer Aniston, who craves nothing more than nonstop sex with her assistant. This is, essentially, a casting problem. Let’s just say that if you insist on casting Aniston in this role — and she, for whatever reason, actually accepts it — you have destroyed any comedy. This, for a heterosexual male, is your dream boss.
These three abused employees meet up in a bar to grouse about their bosses and to plot their murders. But they haven’t a clue how to accomplish this. They hire one dude — Jamie Foxx, still coasting on that Oscar — to be their “murder consultant,” the uncomfortable assumption here being that murder falls within the expertise of African-Americans.
Everything they try goes wrong, but ultimately — did you ever doubt it? — the Three Saps get more or less what they want.
But getting there is sheer drudgery and a lot of comedy that relies on such things as screeching cats springing across the screen when the boys break-and-enter or their bosses’ collective stupidity exceeding theirs.
TV director Seth Gordon shows no flair for turning the absurdities and cartoonish characters in the script by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein into anything more than a collection of moments in search of laughs. When the Three Saps get talking all at once and their neurotic behavior hits overdrive, the film does achieve the occasional laugh. But then, so does the screeching cat.
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