Friday, July 15, 2011

At the Movies: Horrible Bosses

It's no secret that popular culture likes to poke fun at bosses. But it's not often that we hear a tale in which disgruntled employees turn to murder.

In Horrible Bosses, three friends have been pushed to just such limits. Nick (Jason Bateman) battles his boss's (Kevin Spacey) sadistic mind games as he doggedly pursues VP status; newly engaged dental hygienist Dale (Charlie Day) has a hard time saying no means no to his sexually aggressive supervisor (Jennifer Aniston); and chemical plant accountant Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) loses the best boss ever (Donald Sutherland) to a heart attack only to answer to his cokehead son (a comb-over-sporting Colin Farrell). At first, the three consider quitting their jobs. But then they run into an old friend who graduated from Yale only to become a permanent unemployed fixture on his mother's couch. Presented with this walking cautionary tale, they conclude that quitting isn't for them. Then Kurt jokes that they should just kill their bosses, and everyone laughs. But the germ has been planted, and before long the trio is trolling unsavory bars in search of a hit man.

This is where things get a little dark. Which came as a surprise to me. I know, I know. What did I expect from a movie about murder? Frankly, silly high jinks. Slapstick. Failed attempts at poisoning coffee. You know. Someone slips rat poisoning into a mug and waits for the fatal sip only to have the intended victim get coffee somewhere else that day, or, better yet, spill it down the front of his/her shirt. Or maybe car/elevator/even mail tampering gone hilariously awry. Or doom-destined limos that somehow end up at vacation hot spots. (I'm reaching, but you get the idea.) Then after so many failed attempts the would-be killers would realize that the murders weren't meant to be and walk away, finding some other means of solving their professional problems.

But none of that happened. There's no string of murder attempts, amusing or otherwise. There are several surveillance scenes, some of them funny, some of them seeming like dead air. An unlikely connection links Nick's and Kurt's bosses, creating an unexpected but not-so-light twist. Yet even so, the story wraps up in the way you'd expect it to - it just takes a strange route to get there.

Although the plot is questionable, the characters make up for it. Playing his typical cold fish self, Kevin Spacey makes an ideal tyrant. Farrell and Aniston step outside of their comfort zones to become power-hungry bullies. As for the three musketeers, it's hard to say whether Bateman or Sudeikis plays the lead. Bateman's job situation is probably the most dire, and the story begins and ends with him. Yet it's Sudeikis who spearheads the murder operation - and drives the getaway car (which, by the way, is equipped with some weird, omniscient OnStar type navigation system that goes by the name of Geoffrey). Still, I found Day's character to be the most likable. Reprising his go-to lovable moron role, he lends an endearing quality to this dark comedy.

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