There are few comedy pleasures better suited to the medium of movies than that of watching supposedly normal people behaving terribly. And if those transgressing characters are played by popular movie stars, so much the better. Everything naughty is a little bit nicer with, for instance, Billy Bob Thornton in the title role in Bad Santa. To this sweet list of sourball comedies we can now add Horrible Bosses, a bouncy, well-built, delightfully nasty tale of resentment, desperation, and amoral revenge that does for employer-employee relations what Danny DeVito and Bette Midler did for the bonds of matrimony in the great 1986 Zucker brothers comedy Ruthless People.
Each boss is certifiably, HR-violation horrible in this tale of hostile work environments directed (with good pacing honed on episodes of The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation) by Seth Gordon. Corporate manager Nick (Jason Bateman, the voice of exasperated reason) works for a sadistic control freak (Kevin Spacey, right in his zone); accountant/genial skirt-chaser Bobby (SNL’s Jason Sudeikis) reports to a corrupt, coked-up party guy (Colin Farrell, hilarious in his prosthetic transformation) who’s running a family business into the ground (and polluting the ground while he’s at it); and dental assistant Dale (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day, fussing and squeaking impressively) endures outsized sexual harassment from a dentist (Jennifer Aniston, thrilled to talk filthy).
What is first broached as a joke among the three buddies — why not kill each other’s worst nightmare? — slowly coagulates into a vague plan, which snowballs into specific chaos, which leads to… Well, to tell would be horrible. Let’s just say that these three middle-class, lily-white novice hitmen make the mistake of seeking gangsta advice from a scary-looking black dude who calls himself Mother—-er Jones and who, played with sly zing by Jamie Foxx, sets just the right tone for Horrible Bosses. The movie is equal parts outrageous (did Aniston really say that?), raunchy (did Sudeikis really stick that toothbrush there?), and reassuring (aww, the dental assistant really loves his demure fiancée). In this comedic assault on the inequities of corporate hierarchy, the bosses only get what’s coming to them. The audience, meanwhile, reaps the employee benefits. A-