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Horrible Bosses goes for over-the-top scenarios when setting the stage closer to reality could’ve packed a lot more punch.

Implausible Bosses

Spacey plays a humiliation specialist
Spacey plays a humiliation specialist

At its core, Horrible Bosses is a buddy movie in the fine tradition of The Hangover, Swingers, and Wild Hogs.

As with those movies, the guys really seem to have nothing much in common aside from their affinity for alcohol and hot chicks, which just so happen to be two things almost universally appreciated by the male sex.

In this case, there are three best buds.

While growing up, Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, Going the Distance) yearned to be a husband. Yeah. That was his goal in life. And now his life’s goal is within reach. He’s engaged to a hotty, but Dale’s life ain’t easy. Oh no. The dentist he works for is a hot, crazy sexaholic (Jennifer Aniston, Office Space) who repeatedly assaults, molests, and offends good ol’ Dale.

In the eyes of his friends, though, Dale’s got nothing to complain about. If only every guy worked for a smokin’ hot babe who’s sexed up all day long.

Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, State of Play) is a workaholic lusting after a promotion. But, unlike Dale, Nick works for an asshole, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty). Dave steals Nick’s thunder and promotes himself. He also accuses Nick of having a drinking problem after Nick accepts a beverage offered – rather forcefully – by Dave at 8 in the morning.

Then there’s Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, Hall Pass). He’s arguably the happiest of the bunch, working for a great guy at a chemical company. A great guy, that is, until he keels over and has a heart attack. With the business left in his cokehead son’s hands, Kurt is left facing a miserable life working for a totally incompetent goon.

Bad Days

Comparisons to The Hangover movies are easy, particularly when one of the best buddies is a dentist. Well, in this case, a dental hygienist. Really, though, Horrible Bosses is a close kin to 9 to 5, the 1980 office comedy in which three women (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin) take on their boss (Dabney Coleman) in a madcap escapade of feminist revenge. That same year also saw How to Beat the High Cost of Living, in which another bevy of babes, Susan Saint James, Jane Curtin, and Jessica Lange, find unique ways to beat Carter-era inflation.

The lengthy tag-line for Cost of Living was this: “A hilarious new comedy for everyone who ever wanted to give the oil companies gas pains, turn off the power companies’ lights and make the banks stand in line for a change.”

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But, 31 years later, the concept has been brought up to modern times, which means the antics are much raunchier and the end goal is no longer lesson-teaching, but flat-out murder.

The three guys have had it with their bosses and they embark upon finding a hired assassin.

Looking online yields an unfortunate result, with the term “wet works” being sadly mistaken as lingo for “gunman.” Instead of a killer, the boys find themselves dealing with a guy who provides a far more specialized skill (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four, in a surprising, tiny comedic cameo). After that failure to communicate, the guys then take the next logical step; they go to a bad part of town and hire a black guy in a bar.

Not just any black guy, though. They get M.F. Jones (Jamie Foxx, slumming after his Oscar win for Ray). Yes, the M.F. stands for something we won’t print here, allowing for some easy laughs using foul language.

Mission: Improbable

The guys are swindled by M.F. Jones. He’s not going to kill their bosses, he’s going to be their consultant. The big idea is for the guys to stake out the terrible trio of career killers and then plot ways for each guy to kill one of the other guys’ bosses. Or, better yet, make it seem like something much more innocent and accidental.

Their first reconnaissance mission is when everything goes to pot. Or, to be more precise, that’s when everything goes to blow.

Sure, this is a comedy, so realism is hardly a factor. But the bosses are drawn so broadly and as such vile, easy-to-hate (although Aniston is also very easy to love) characters, there’s a desire to see things bulk up with a little more topical heft.

There is a little bar talk with the boys demonstrating a certain cockiness in regard to the ease with which they could each find a new job. Then they run into an old friend from Lehman Brothers and, well, so much for thoughts of walking outside and being inundated with job offers. Their Lehman friend is still unemployed, living with his parents, and doing naughty things with other men for some beer money.

Cast Aside

That bar chatter is as close to reality as Horrible Bosses gets. There’s hope at the beginning for something more, when Nick laments the corporate life of getting in early, leaving late, and taking all sorts of grief from people in between. The key to success, he’s convinced, is taking that grief.

So, given the lack of guts – or, more likely, the lack of desire – to capture more of that oft-mentioned zeitgeist, the true spirit of the times, Horrible Bosses goes for the low hanging fruit and absurd situations.

From a certain point of view, that’s all fine and good. Laughs are there for the taking.

And the cast is top notch. All of the leads are appealing. The nasty bosses are fleshed out with relish by Spacey, Aniston, and Colin Farrell, who has successfully traded in heart-throb status for something far more interesting and rewarding: a solid character actor who disappears behind his bad hair and slight paunch.

And watching Bateman is always a pleasure. He’s aging extremely well and his is a rarity: a cross-over career in comedy and drama that stretches back to early ‘80s TV with Silver Spoons and Little House on the Prairie, right on up to contemporary hits like Juno and Up in the Air.

When Nick’s confronted about speeding through a residential area, allegedly escaping the scene of a crime, he softly claims he was drag racing. When pushed further about “drag racing” in his Prius, he sticks with it and simply mutters, “I don’t win a lot.”

That’s a funny bit, perfectly delivered.

It’s an amiable moment that helps balance out the raunch.