Comedy is grounded in absurdity and irony, but there isn’t only one formula with which to apply them. We need a break from the stoner comedic formula. Horrible Bosses, directed by Seth Gordon, fails to give viewers that break. Although its protagonists don’t smoke weed, it has several qualities which are common among “stoner” flicks.
These commonalities between stoner flicks include the lack of character background and of development. Horrible Bosses fits the bill in this regard. Each character is static: Nick is the voice of reason, Dale is an insecure nitwit and Kurt is a sexually active moron.
The movie prompts the question: How do the characters know each other? We are forced to assume that these three men, who all have different vocations, are good friends.
The basic comedy act that ensues is a simple one: comedy duo/trio. This is a comedic dynamic in which there is a straight man and a comedic man. The straight man is usually serious, intelligent and reasonable. Alternatively, the comedic man is typically flippant, ignorant and unorthodox. Hence, the humor is derived from the relationship between the straight man and the comedic man.
In these films, the straight man is more or less persuaded by the comedic man (or men) to do stupid things that are against his better judgment. A narcotic is usually involved in the process.
Although there are two comedic characters, Horrible Bosses is similar in this regard. Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), a sales rep, is the straight man who is persuaded by his two flippant buddies, Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) that killing their awful bosses is a good idea if they ever hope to be happy. When they are on a reconnaissance mission, Dale drops a box of cocaine, causing Nick to inhale it. Thus, Nick becomes more complacent, easily persuaded to do stupid things.
The movie fails not only in the sense that it doesn’t stray from the norm, but also fails where past movies of the same comedic dynamic have succeeded.
Horrible Bosses’s bonding scenes don’t cut it. They almost always take place in the bar while the trio conspires, but the connections between the characters remain shallow. Part of the reason why they don’t work is because there is too much unevenness between the characters. They are all too different. Consequently, the humor fails because the double dynamic is not, as they say, firing on all four cylinders.
The movie’s straight man, moreover, is poorly cast. Nick is a highly ambitious sales rep played by an extremely exhausted Jason Bateman. Throughout the entire movie, Bateman’s expressions don’t change. He looks like he could use a Red Bull.
But the foremost reason this movie nose-dives is because, for 98 minutes, we are forced to listen to Charlie Day’s awful sounding voice. It’s worse than Jay Baruchel’s voice in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Not only is it awful sounding, but it distracts from the mise-en-scene and the acting. And it’s not like the movie tries to hide it; for instance, in the last scene, raising his voice, Day’s character finally gathers the gumption to stand up to his sexually abusive boss. I can imagine that this scene made every person unfortunate enough to have paid the price of a ticket cringe.
But despite everything wrong with the movie, let’s end on a positive note. I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by Kevin Spacey who played Dave Harken, Nick’s boss and a murderous psychopath; Jennifer Aniston who played Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S., Dale’s boss and a sexually abusive dentist; and Colin Farrell who played Bobby Pellitt, Kurt’s boss, a delinquent and cocaine abuser. The three bosses outshine the three protagonists.
And it’s the only movie in which we get to see Colin Farrell, an otherwise serious actor, rock a comb-over and snort cocaine in his office while dressed in a red bathrobe. I give this movie three out of five stars.