It’s been a fairly sparse summer for comedies, with the Kristen Wiig-led “Bridesmaids” and British farce “The Trip” as the only high points quality-wise.
That’s why this weekend’s offering of two original comedies, “Horrible Bosses” and “Zookeeper,” seemed like it would offer a refreshing dose of laughter. While the less said about critically panned “Zookeeper” the better, “Horrible Bosses” offers more than enough laughs.
Riffing on the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” or more appropriately 1980’s “9 to 5,” “Horrible Bosses” tells the story of three hardworking urbanites who think they can get away with killing their bosses.
While the film’s conclusion isn’t quite as bleak as one would imagine based on that premise, the results are still quite intriguing for a film whose intentions seem only to entertain.
It’s the combination of Saturday Night Live regular Jason Sudeikis, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” star Charlie Day and former “Arrested Development” actor Jason Bateman that allows “Horrible Bosses” to live up to its potential.
Critics have had lots to say about this trio, citing their chemistry as the strongest aspect of the film. Imagining other current comedy stars in these roles is a hard thing to do.
Had you stuck a larger star into the trio like the Farrelly Brothers did with Owen Wilson in this year’s “Hall Pass,” you could have ended up with an unbalanced group because one individual’s star wattage would clearly outshine the others.
Here, all three are on a level playing field, sharing quips and gags that play for maximum hilarity. Even when the all-star bosses appear, the chemistry is pretty unshakable.
Another part of the fun in “Horrible Bosses” is that the bigger names, such as Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, all seem to enjoy playing against their respective type. While Spacey plays an older version of his character from “American Beauty,” the normally insufferable Aniston plays a raging nymphomaniac, which leads to some rather humorous results.
Smaller appearances by actors Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx and Ioan Gruffudd also add humor to the trio’s ongoing journey to murder their bosses. Foxx, who plays the expletive-named Dean “Motherf—er” Jones, steals many of the scenes involving him as a convict who’s also a terrible bargainer.
Even with all these solid elements, “Horrible Bosses” has a little more going for it than just pure broad comedy. What’s most interesting is how it subtly incorporates the job paranoia that envelopes the corporate world today.
Director Seth Gordon, who also directed the documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” and a segment of “Freakonomics,” applies some of that same socially conscious sensibility here. This isn’t to say that the film is biting social satire, but the fact that this sort of world weariness exists in a major Hollywood release is quite admirable.
Gordon, who studied architecture at Yale University, gave up on his dream of working in that field once the recession hit and it became clear he was no longer able to make a living. In a July 8 interview with The Wrap, he discussed how the current economic climate has had an effect on his filmmaking career.
“It’s a tough world, man, and everyone who came out of college when I did … hit that ceiling exactly when everything crumbled,” Gordon said. “All of the sudden if you had a job that’s anything better than bad, you feel lucky, and you have to hold onto it. Like you can’t move. That’s essentially where all of my generation, I think, finds itself right now.”
It’s clear that Gordon’s own employment history influenced the overall tone of “Horrible Bosses,” elevating it a little bit above your average comedy.
“Horrible Bosses” could have felt like a sitcom episode stretched to 100 minutes. Instead, it feels like an economical summer comedy that delivers on its interesting premise, even if the final results feel a little generic or contrived.
While the film probably won’t go on to become a beloved comedy hit like the superior “Bridesmaids,” it’s bound to keep you laughing for a little while – at least until HBO begins to air it endlessly five months from now.