Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick Reviews Horrible Bosses

On paper, Horrible Bosses has quite a bit going for it: an entertaining story idea (a trio of friends set out to murder their “horrible” bosses), as well as an ensemble cast featuring Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, and Jamie Foxx.

However, beyond the relatable premise (don’t lie, you’ve thought about it), do the combined efforts of the cast and crew succeed in delivering an entertaining time at the movies?

Somewhat. Horrible Bosses isn’t likely to be a sleeper-hit like The Hangover or Bridesmaids – where sharp scripts, relatable stories, and hilarious performances created must-see movie fervor. Instead, the film is an average summer comedy with a number of silly moments but few laugh-out-loud surprises – and makes zero attempt at rectifying the twisted premise in any meaningful way.

Horrible Bosses was directed by Seth Gordon, who some film fans will remember for his thoughtful, fascinating, and well-executed, documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Other film fans will, unfortunately, remember Gordon for his studio feature debut, the rom-com Four Christmases starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.

Unlike Four Christmases, in Horrible Bosses Gordon isn’t saddled with romance or character-defining sub-plots, so the plot is surprisingly straightforward. The film revolves around the storylines of three high school friends who each love their jobs – save for their respective evil bosses.

Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, and Jason Bateman in 'Horrible Bosses'

Executive Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) has worked under Dave Harken, president of sales (Kevin Spacey), for nearly a decade – only to be slighted when Harken dangles a promotion in front of him and then nixes the position. Soon-to-be-husband Dale Albus (Charlie Day) loves his fiance’ and works as a dental assistant – but faces unrelenting sexual harassment from the hot-but-loony, Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) is an accountant at a family-run chemical company. When Buckman’s boss/father-figure Mr. Pellitt dies, his coke-addicted son Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell) takes over the company. In a thin but serviceable plot-point, the characters get drunk and find the roughest bar in the city – where they find a “murder consultant” (Jamie Foxx) to help rid them of their bosses for good.

Unfortunately, despite a fun premise, the film is especially formulaic and doesn’t offer very many surprises. Each character is given a galvanizing (and over-the-top) motivation for having to actually kill their boss, instead of simply quitting, and the overarching story plays out in a ridiculous series of events that, while entertaining from beat-to-beat, are especially cartoonish once everything has been wrapped-up in a neat bow. As a result, the “characters” are more like entertaining caricatures (corporate tycoon, womanizer, sex-crazed hottie, dead-beat jerk, etc…), so it’s hard to invest in the story beyond the absurdity of what’s playing out in each scene.

It’s not that Gordon needed to spend a lot more time on the characters, but for a film about a bunch of likable guys who seemingly have no choice but to murder people, it’s hard for the onscreen events to hold any tension or weight – because everything is just so ridiculous. Outside of the opening five minutes, the film is very linear driving from point A to point B and onward without taking enough time to truly justify the absurd decisions that get made with  straight-faced sentiment.

Jennifer Aniston is a 'Horrible' boss

That said, many of the scenes are pretty enjoyable – primarily due to the trio of “horrible bosses.” While Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis give competent performances, it is Spacey, Farrell, and Aniston that elevate the film beyond its basic dark comedy plot-point. Each of the high-profile actors commits to the absurdity of the story and delivers a performance that will genuinely make audience members wish the trio of wannabe-murderers would actually succeed. While the “bosses” are deplorable in the film’s world, they end up being the heroes of this particular movie-going experience (i.e., the ones who solicit the most laughs).

Horrible Bosses offers a number of hilarious moments, yes, but it never fully unlocks the potential of its premise. Admittedly, it’s a hard premise to reconcile, but that’s what separates a great dark comedy from an average comedy with a dark premise: the ability to pump actual depth into twisted subject matter while still managing to be humorous. Instead, Gordon delivers a film that rides on the coattails of the movie’s pitch for the entire runtime – without even attempting to offer some kind of deeper insight or social commentary.

As a result, even with over-the-top performances from Spacey, Farrell, and Aniston, Horrible Bosses still looks better on paper than it does on the big screen.

If you’re still on the fence about Horrible Bosses, check out the trailer below:

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick — and let us know what you thought of the film below.

Horrible Bosses is now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5