‘Horrible Bosses’ Is Too Tame to Be a Black Comedy and Too Dark to Be a Lark

Black comedies are as tricky to pull off as they are to sell. For one thing, comedy is a much more subjective genre than others. How dark is too dark, and too dark for whom? If you only worry about the first question, you’re on the right track. After all, going the black comedy route takes a commitment to pessimism in the heart of everyone involved. There’s no greater good. There’s no clean-cut protaganist. Everyone is a bit messy. Everyone has made a mistake. Unfortunately, Horrible Bosses spends a tad too much time purifying our heroes and not enough exposing their inner demons.

In the film’s crude and clever opening montage, we’re rapidly introduced to Nick, Dale, Kurt, and their respective bosses, Mr. Harken, Dr. Harris, and Mr. Pellitt. It takes just as much time to judge their horrendous qualities, and lower their life value enough to deem their deaths appropriate. Mr. Harken, played as an unapologetic devil by Kevin Spacey, is a power-coveting liar. Collin Farell appears more briefly as a coked-out bigot, and Jennifer Aniston seduces her way through an uncharacteristically vulgar role she’s earned a deserved amount of attention for in the press.

Both Aniston and the deaths of these three bosses are undeniably alluring fantasies, but only one remains appealing when confronted in reality. Yes, it wouldn’t exactly be a tragedy if Nick, Dale, and Kurt’s tormentors met their demise via real accidents. Sadly, this naughty-minded movie forces our protagonists to confront the quiet voice in the back of their “good guy” minds telling them to act on the illest intentions they’ve ever dreamed up. Plainly said, these guys are just too nice too act on the film’s basic conceit, and the audience knows it all along.

Not to spoil anything for anyone, but none of these three average Joes are going to kill anyone, here. While it’s fun at times to watch them try to work up the courage to do it, eventually they’ve got to put up or shut up. The fact that they do the latter makes Horrible Bosses too tame to be a black comedy and too dark to be a lark.

Still, the cast comes up with a lot of laughs on their own. OK, I shouldn’t say it’s completely because of the thespians. I’m sure the three screenwriters behind Horrible Bosses came up with a few good jokes, including borrowing a classic coke joke from Annie Hall and stretching it beyond the original’s awkward origins. Still, any amount of writing couldn’t make the role of Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S., the world’s most dangerous person with legal access to anesthesia, as erotically or farcically charged as Jennifer Aniston. In a refreshing change of pace from the girl next door characters she so easily inhabits, Aniston appears to be up for anything inappropriate as a nymphomaniac gone wild for her engaged dental assistant. Well, you’ll get almost anything but full frontal nudity. I didn’t want anyone to get their hopes up, here.

Don’t be discouraged, boys. Aniston has always been much more than a pretty face, and her comic timing is well worth your full attention. As is Spacey’s joyously angry assault on human decency. He stands out as easily the most villainous of the three dirt bags, but also the most intriguing. There are a few surprises hidden in his spacious, cat-filled home, including a promiscuous wife and a key piece to the convoluted third act. Spacey seems to love every minute of his hate-spewing screen time, and his delight warms us more than our disdain for his torturing ways leaves us cold. Farrell is also amusing, but the most entertaining aspect of his performance is his formidable forehead and matching comb-over.

While the antagonists have the juicier roles, it’s their foils that make Horrible Bosses palatable. These three man boys are professional comics who know how to work a crowd. Jason Bateman has been deserving of leading man status for years. He turned in last year’s least seen tremendous comedic performance in The Switch (with Jennifer Aniston), and he’s been playing the unrewarded everyman so well he may have become typecast in life. Here’s hoping the upcoming Arrested Development series and movie boost his popularity and he continues to land choice roles like this one.

Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are also establishing themselves as genuine big screen attractions after launching themselves on quality television programs (SNL and It’s Always Sunny, respectively). Sudeikis hasn’t had the breakout role he needs on the silver screen, but solid turns in Hall Pass and Going the Distance are proudly spreading his brand. Day co-starred with Sudeikis in the latter, awful film and helped save it from being an absolute waste of time. He has yet to break away from his character on Sunny, but lesser actors have rode the stupid but loyal buddy character long enough to make a career out of playing it a few dozen times. I hope he does more because I think he can, but there’s worse things to remember a man for than Kitten Mittons.

Veteran documentary director Seth Gordon’s (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) second Hollywood fiction feature (the first being the underwhelming Four Christmases) is still an admirable effort from a young comedic mind. Trying something difficult is much better than cutting a paycheck on something easy in my book. Here’s hoping he keeps making decisions like this one in the future, even if they don’t completely pan out.

In the special features department, the Blu-ray combo pack offers up a decent amount of behind the scenes interviews with almost every cast member in the film, as well as the director. The short features are just that – short, but entertaining. They’re standard, but give you what you’re looking for from these funny people, even if there are a few too many film clips filling time.

The deleted scenes are worth checking out this time around, especially a clever alternate opening showing Bateman’s daily rush to work. Yeah, they have two very similar cuts of what’s basically the same thing, but I actually prefer either to the final product.

Also a nice inclusion to the “Totally Inappropriate Edition” is the theatrical cut of the film. So many new editions only include the usually worse extended edition of the movie you fell in love with in the theater. Having a choice is wonderful, even when it’s only eight extra unimportant minutes.

RATING 5 / 10