When I hear something being criticized as being "like a sitcom," I'd guess the intent is to say the premise of the movie or scenes in the movie are belabored, that whatever element is being described is either strained in its attempts to set up a "comical" situation, or its desperation to draw laughs out of one. What actual sitcoms make me think of, however, is the sensation of safe, comforting reliability: the knowledge that every week, characters the viewer likes will be there, caught up in some new-yet-familiar scenario that may surprise them on the surface, but rarely tries to push their buttons in any truly uncomfortable, shocking, or game-changing ways.
Horrible Bosses has the benefit of a fairly wicked R-rated script full of profanity and sex and violence, but it is a sitcom in all those "safe" ways. In the film, three average guys -- Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) -- plot to murder their bosses after all three of them -- Harken (Kevin Spacey), Julia (Jennifer Aniston), and Bobby (Colin Farrell), respectively -- heap on one too many soul-crushing, company-destroying, line-crossing humiliations. It's a great premise, but the way it's executed here drains the idea of any sense that the film will really jump the rails and fly off into risky, unexpected territory.
As much as I loved The King of Kong, the lack of danger falls to director Seth Gordon, who proves himself to be the ideal studio comedy stooge, content to deliver a high-gloss, brightly colored, personality-free film that essentially points the camera at the cast of well-lit movie stars and calls it a day. A dark film like this one needs to have a nightmarish anarchy that builds and builds as the protagonists dig themselves deeper into their ill-advised plan, and there's no sense of that here. Whether the heroes are breaking into their bosses' houses or even in supposedly life-or-death situations, there's never any real chance that something bad is going to happen, robbing the film of suspense that could be paid off with laughter. A movie like Heathers goes to dark places, but Horrible Bosses just feels like a lark.
Still, the movie is not without a few charms. Unskilled in the art of murder, the guys wander into the shady part of the city looking for a professional killer who might do the job for them. Instead, they find a tattooed ex-con named Jones (Jamie Foxx), who opts to be their "murder consultant." Unlike the leads, who were probably hired to elevate lesser-than roles with their improvisational skills, Foxx is blessed with a role that was clearly already funny on paper, and he knocks it out of the park, bringing a little bit of that dangerous edge the movie sorely lacks. It's also a great relief to see Kevin Spacey doing the same, popping out of the coma he's been in for 90% of the last decade to bite down with a bit of that Swimming With Sharks venom. Harken is not nearly as evil as Spacey's Sharks character, but it's funny how much Harken seems to relish how horrible he is. The core trio also land their blows across the film, although none of them stand out as much as Foxx or Spacey.
With a director who was willing to cut loose, one who was willing to make Horrible Bosses into a ballsy comedy about three guys who decide to murder their awful superiors rather than a Major Motion Picture about it, the movie could've been brutally, fearlessly hilarious, and considering the things that happen during the third act of the movie apart from the movie itself, the way they must've looked on the page, it's easy to get a sense of what that movie would be like. Instead, Horrible Bosses is an R-rated sitcom: the viewer gets to laugh about killing their own boss, without ever having to feel like everything isn't going to be okay.
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