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If Horrible Bosses is to be believed, times must be hard for middle-aged white men. They don’t have many career options, they’re stuck with jerk bosses, and when they decide they’ve had enough, they can’t even commit simple acts of grisly murder.
These guys — as far as everybody in the middling, R-rated comedy is concerned — are a bunch of pussies.
Director Seth Gordon uses the aforementioned feminine insult again and again to unbelievable effect — like when Dale (Charlie Day), a submissive dentist’s aide, twitches and jerks in discomfort as his boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston) harasses him by describing her below-the-belt bits. Later, Dale struggles to even say the word; his employer’s professional and sexual aggression even stifles his speech. “Pussy” gets tossed around to ostensibly shock — it doesn’t — but also to brand the ensemble leads as weak, incompetent, and subordinate to the assholes that sign their paychecks.
Nick (Jason Bateman) and Kurt (Jason Sudekis), aren’t much better off than Dale. Nick works long hours as a cubicle monkey to earn a much-deserved promotion, only to watch his sociopath boss (Kevin Spacey) absorb the job himself, while Kurt loves his job at a chemical company — until a heart attack kills his boss and mentor, leaving his arrogant cokehead son (Colin Farrell) in charge.
One boozy bar night later, the gang leaps to a drastic solution. Thanks to the poor economy, Kurt argues with some kind of beer-enhanced logic, they don’t have a choice but to snuff out their bosses. Nick, who already fantasizes about tossing his boss through an office window, is easily convinced. Dale takes some encouraging — until Julia threatens to break up his impending marriage if he doesn’t sleep with her.
And that’s it. As the trio flies through Gordon’s lazy set pieces — including an idiotically race-tinged joke that revolves around a “murder consultant” named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) — there’s no talk of what it means to end a life. They spend hours spying on their targets, but seem incapable of considering the moral implications of murder. Sure, each man fails when faced with the opportunity to kill, but it’s not for a lack of trying — they’re just too craven, too bumbling. If this is a black comedy, it’s been bleached clean.
The fault, however, doesn’t lie with Bateman, Sudekis, and Day, who do well playing off each other’s lines and comedic timing to build genuine rapport. For blame, look to the script. Written by Michael Markowitz (Becker), actor John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein ($H*! My Dad Says), it reeks of a bland sitcom’s worst sensibilities. Some of the gags buy cheap laughs, but muddle the comedy’s tone and direction. For a movie with such a dark premise, the hastily sketched characters in Horrible Bosses are sarcastic and slapstick, not enraged and murderous. Any dirty deed — including sex — is leered at from a distance.
In fact, sex is presented as a microcosm for all of the character’s supposed masculine shortcomings. Nick eschews it while hunting for a promotion. Kurt, a skirt-chasing flirt, fears prison because he is too “rape-able.” And Dale, a harmless oaf convicted as a sex offender after publicly urinating in an empty children’s playground, is blackmailed after Julia drugs and takes advantage of him. It’s no wonder these guys won’t stand up for themselves — Gordon seems to believe that today’s white-collar man is absolutely emasculated.
What a dick.