They Work Hard for the Funny...
You take three clearly deranged employers, three fed-up schlubs who are thoroughly inept at planning out crimes, and the results are Horrible Bosses, one of the best comedies of 2011 (and restoring hope after such horrors as The Hangover Part II and Just Go With It that films made to bring laughter can actually do so).
Nick (Jason Bateman) has been plugging away at the company for seven years, but his boss, Mr. Harken (Kevin Spacey) has no regard for his work. In fact, Harken always manages to take anything Nick does or says, no matter how trivial or insignificant, and twist it to make Nick look almost psychotic. Dale (Charlie Day) is thoroughly devoted to his fiancee, but as a dental hygenist he works under dentist Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). We do mean literally under Dr. Harris: she is shameless in how she sexually harasses Dale (at one point appearing in front of him wearing only a lab coat and panties), but because Dale is on a sex offender list (due to urinating in a park after dark), his job prospects are dim (side note: so is he, but I digress). Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) doesn't have it too bad: he likes his boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland), but almost immediately the elder Pellitt dies, and the business is taken over by his coke-snorting sleazy son Bobby (Colin Farrell).
What are three guys to do? Simple: they must kill their respective bosses. How are they do do that? Simple again: find a hitman. After failing spectacularly (courtesy of a cameo from Ioan Gruffudd), they do the next sensible thing: go to the sleaziest part of town and find a hitman. They fail in that endeavour, but do find M.F. Jones (Jamie Foxx)--the M.F. standing for something I'd rather not write. As their 'murder consultant', Dean Jones (which is M.F.'s real name) gives them a solution: swap murders a la Strangers on a Train/Throw Momma From the Train. With that brilliant idea, how could these three WASPy guys fail?
Surprisingly, things don't go exactly as planned, but in the end, the three do manage to if not get rid of their respective bosses to at least put them where they belong. Our three 'heroes' not only manage to triumph over their respective horrible bosses, but come out all the better for it.
Granted, Horrible Bosses has at heart a pretty wild premise, but one of the benefits of the screenplay by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Dailey, and Jonathan Goldstein is that it embraces its premise and allows the situations to be if not realistic at least logical to the story. If you are going to try to kill your boss, it makes sense to break into their respective homes to get some 'intel'. If you go online to find a hitman, you can't really complain about getting your money's worth (or in their case, not quite understanding what one pays for).
What makes Horrible Bosses truly funny is a combination of a relate-able situation (at times I imagine, one would have wanted to get rid of their boss) along with the total ineptness if not downright stupidity of all the characters. Throughout Horrible Bosses, Nick, Dale, and Kurt are such absolute morons when planning anything that their plans inevitably are bound to fail due to their own ineptness. However, it's their total cluelessness that makes them both exaggerated and likable as people. We know they shouldn't be attempting this murder spree, but because we know them (and know they will inevitably fail spectacularly at it) we don't think they are terrible people.
There isn't a bad performance in Horrible Bosses, something that is rare in any film. It's a credit to Seth Gordon that he managed to allow each of the characters their moment and kept the pace brisk at a mere 98 minutes, thus not overstaying its welcome. The villains are terrible people, but Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell are smart enough actors to know that their evilness comes from being both highly exaggerated while maintaining a realism within their looney behavior. Spacey maintains a great balance between the cold and insensitive boss and a pathologically jealous husband (albeit with justification). At one point, Harken laughs at Nick when he tells his boss that making him work late forced him to miss saying goodbye to Nick's grandmother. Harken doesn't laugh because Nick's grandmother died, but instead because he's hung up on Nick referring to her as his "Gam Gam". When Harken is unfeeling, he's cruel, but when he is menacing (as he is later in the film), he's downright frightening.
Aniston appears to be having a ball letting it all hang out (metaphorically for the most part). Her almost obsessive derangement to schtup poor Dale is so wild one can't help bursting out laughing. She goes beyond sex kitten to pure super-slut, but here again both the script and the performances bring out the laughter. You have that wild dichotomy between Julia's sex-crazed behavior and the almost Puritanical reactions of Dale that make it even funnier. I'd argue that Farrell has the smallest role in Horrible Bosses, but his scenes as the wild, over-the-top Bobby (complete with the gut and shameful comb-over) shows that not only is he truly one of our best actors around but that he is perfectly capable of being in on the joke.
With his high voice (which grows higher and more strained whenever his character is stressed), Day is among the best in this ensemble (although I'd argue all of them are on their game). He has some of the funniest scenes in Horrible Bosses, in particular when he inadvertently saves Harken's life. Day's performance in his stumbling, eager but fearful Dale, makes the character both oddly endearing and thoroughly funny.
I also would be remiss to not mention the cameos by both Gruffudd and even Bob Newhart, both playing against type but making their small scenes funny simply because they are playing against type. Even Brian George (who is the Navigation Guide voice of "Gregory"--real name Atmanand) has funny moments--in fact, he has some of the funniest moments with our three main characters.
At this point I'd like to address some of the charges against Horrible Bosses in that the film is in particular racist. These come from the fact that our white characters first, go to the ghetto to find their hitman, and second, forever appear to bungle Atmanand's name whenever in particular Kurt attempts to say it. I would like to say in the film's defense that A.) it is a comedy, therefore we can't take any of it seriously, and B.) their thorough idiocy makes THEM the butt of the joke. Only people this dumb and inept would think of first, hiring a hitman through either Craigslist or a Craigslist-type site, then go to the sleaziest part of town to find a hitman. We laugh AT them for their inability to understand what they are doing is so dumb, not because we agree with any of their premises.
In short, I didn't see any overt bigotry to Horrible Bosses, just three rather dim and klutzy men who follow through on a rather vague and idiotic idea and find that as murderers, they are total idiots.
What I will find fault with Horrible Bosses are some things I'm not fond of in almost any movie. We begin and end with voiceover (which I didn't feel was necessary), and at times we get a repetition in the dialogue to something we've already seen. Also, I didn't think that Dale would be marked as a sex offender merely because he once had drunkenly urinated in a public park after dark. At the most, I imagine he would have been charged with disorderly conduct and/or public intoxication (if anything really). Constantly repeating that this remarkably sweet character was a registered sex offender was the one note that I felt didn't strike right in an otherwise funny film. Finally, there wasn't much look at the lives of the guys outside either work or themselves. As much as Dale may protest his undying devotion and love for his fiancee, we don't ever see them interact. Small flaws, but flaws nonetheless.
Horrible Bosses succeeds not only because the situations and characters are funny, but because audiences can relate (hopefully up to a point). I figure most people have thought their boss is a jerk and figured life would be better under someone else. They may be merely unaware of how things really work, or not appreciate all the work you do. For the most part, people may not like their boss but at least know he/she is not a psycho, a maneater, or a tool (to quote the poster). Horrible Bosses, thankfully, is not horrible at all, but one of the better if not best comedies of the year.
Problems at work were never so funny.