Horrible Bosses: horrible jokes, horribly good fun

Jul 22, 2011
Ben Riley-Smith

Film of the week: It may be crude, but latest summer blockbuster is funny and even relevant

It may be a film dependent on tired stereotypes and laddish vulgarity, but the critics are generally in agreement: Horrible Bosses, released in the UK today, is really quite funny.  
The comedy follows three friends – Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) – as they struggle to work under their respective bosses who are, you guessed it, particularly horrible. Unable to quit because of dire job prospects, the trio hatch a particularly macabre plan: murder.
Amid their fumbled attempts at criminality, the guys manage to pack in a whole host of off-key jokes, as the New York Times reviewer A O Scott points out. "The movie, in addition to being expectedly vulgar, is noisy and preposterous," he writes. "Its humour flirts with racism, goes steady with misogyny and pretty much marries homophobia.
Scott continues: "So here is the evident puzzle: Horrible Bosses is also frequently very funny… It takes the ordinary human traits of stupidity, selfishness, lust and greed... and turns the whole sorry spectacle into a carnival."
Michael Phillips of the LA Times agrees: "Cleverly structured, Horrible Bosses works in spite of its cruder, scrotum-centric instincts." Much of the humour, Phillips says, is found in the interplay of the three protagonists who "feed off one another's energies in a pleasing way".
The actors who play the three demon bosses – Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell – have also received praise. Aniston, much to the press's delight, plays a nymphomaniac seducing anything in sight, while Farrell depicts coke-addled arrogance to a tee.
Yet it is Spacey's malevolent Dave Harken who steals the show. In the view of Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times, he is the only good thing in the film. "Horrible Bosses is a one-man show that other actors have been allowed, lucklessly for them, to crash."
He continues: "Spacey does more with an eyebrow than Bateman-Day-Sudeikis can do with their combined physiognomies. He does more with a cadence than Aniston can do with a cataract of would-be comical bel canto. And he doesn't even need a Farrell combover. He just is Hollywood's lord of timing."
Cheap laughs aside, however, the key to the film's appeal may lie in the fact that it's caught the zeitgeist. It can be related to by everyone stuck in the recession, according to the Washington Post.  As A O Scott points out, people will empathise with characters struggling against "the unfairness of work at a time of high unemployment, when everything seems to be tilted in favour of those who already have power".

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