Colin Farrell steals every scene in Horrible Bosses as a coked up tool named Bobby Pellit who’s running his father’s company into the ground. Near unrecognizable with his dodgy comb-over and permanently drugged up leer, it’s an opportunity for the Irish screen hunk to take a well-earned vacation from his broodingly handsome bad boy image.
Horrible Bosses starts off really well. First we meet Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), the middle management working stiff who has been logging 12-hour days and handling every curve ball his insanely bullying supervisor Dale Harken (Kevin Spacey) throws at him.
“My mother came here from the old country, she took no s*** from anyone,” Hendricks tells us, “and she died with $2,000 in her bank account -- that sucks.”
Well, yes it does. And when it’s good Horrible Bosses expertly underlines the widening gulf between the American dream and the American reality. When it stops doing that -- and it stops quickly -- is when the trouble starts.
Playing victimized employees with awful bosses, Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis have real chemistry together as Nick, Dale and Kurt, three hardworking saps who daily get suckered. What, Horrible Bosses asks, do good men do when your boss is a hateful psycho, a rapist or a total tool?
If quitting is not an option then perhaps hatching a convoluted plan to permanently rid the world of these parasites is the only way?
Soon the three lads are bickering with each other about the shape their murder plans should take. If bumping off their three tormentors sounds a little harsh at first, it becomes clear they’re completely trapped and without other options.
As Bobby Pellit, a coked-up egomaniac who wants to squeeze every last cent from his father’s company to bankroll his epic benders, Irish screen hunk Colin Farrell is a revelation. Fans will already know he’s a gifted comic actor, but this in this role, as a middle aged man-child with a dodgy comb over and a permanent leer, he’s virtually unrecognizable.
“It was just fun on the page,” Farrell explained to the press this week, outlining why he took the role.
“One thing that stands out after 12 years of reading scripts -- on this one I really did laugh out loud on the couch at home, which doesn’t happen very often when reading comedies I’ve found.
“Through the years I just haven’t found many of them that funny. Yeah, it was kind of crass and it was without apologies, and at the same time there was some really well observed behavioral stuff.”
Farrell plays the failure-to-launch son of Sudeikis’ kindly boss, who unfortunately for Sudeikis dies in the first scene. When Farrell’s character takes over the reins with his dad out of the picture, it’s one of those classic son will destroy in a minute what his father took decades to build set-ups.
“I had complete license with Bobby to just be as pathologically f***ed up as I possibly could be. Bobby believes he has complete autonomy over the world he lives in. He’s the boss’s son, nobody’s going to f*** with him, he can do what he wants and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.
“And he’s really not -- he’s really tragic and miserable and lonely, but he has no idea. There was a plethora of stuff to play with, and it didn’t feel like you could do it wrong.”
Unfortunately for Horrible Bosses, Farrell’s scenes get the biggest laughs but he’s criminally underused in the final cut. Each time he does appear it’s a blazing reminder of the kind inspiration and smarts Horrible Bosses aspires to and continually falls short of.
Starting off with a literally killer premise, the film brilliantly captures some of the universal realities of working life for the first 20 minutes, and then it gives it all up to become a cookie-cutter caper flick where women and minorities are just handy foils for the real story -- what will happen to the three put-upon guys?
Searching for a hit man to do their dirty work for them, our three clueless pals use their On-Star navigator to direct them to the most crime-ridden part of town. Soon they’re standing outside a bar filled with African Americans. Oh boy.
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Inside they meet a tough guy named Mother F***ker Jones (played by -- and I can hardly believe I’m writing this -- Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx). At this point in the film, if you don’t want to hurl your popcorn at the screen in total howling derision, you may well be as dumb as the screenwriters seem to think you are.
Look, it’s a comedy, and they often play to stereotypes, and that’s just fine. But Horrible Bosses is quite smartly written in other areas, so why indulge in such risible shorthand when it comes to race?
The women get an even rawer deal, of course. They’re presented as either completely insatiable man-eaters or Disney-esque good girls, and those are your choices. There’s not a shade of overlap between them.
In fact the cartoon portrayal of women’s sexuality in Horrible Bosses is so adolescent and out of touch with -- you know, actual women -- you may find yourself glancing at your phone to check what decade you’re living in.
Jennifer Aniston plays Dr. Julia Harris, a gorgeous but completely deranged dentist slash sexual predator who torments the soon to be married Dale Arbus (Day). It’s the kind of outrageously inappropriate role that in the past would have been played by a man, but the gender reversal here isn’t nearly as provocative and edgy as the scriptwriters imagine.
Dale is getting married to a woman who looks like a human mash up of Cinderella and the Snow Queen, played by the actress Lindsay Sloane. Because it would be unthinkable to ever cheat on such a precious pearl, Dale doesn’t welcome Aniston’s X-rated advances. (At this point, if you don’t yell, “Are you kidding me?” then you aren’t paying attention).
At the press conference for the film at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York this weekend Aniston said, “I’ve never been asked to do a character that incredibly raunchy and inexcusably so. There was no way I didn’t want to do it -- I just jumped at it immediately. I had no fear of the dialogue or the situations. I just thought they were outrageous and fun.”
By raunchy Aniston probably means that 20 minutes after she meets Day she’s straddling him in lingerie. That’s certainly a nail in her good-girl image, but it’s a crying shame she’s been given such a one-note role.
“Something that is really great about a film like this that really does stretch the limits and cross the boundaries. When you have three guys that you’re rooting for and they kind of balance out the shock value and the offensive aspects of the movie,” Aniston adds.
Well she would say that, wouldn’t she? But it’s impossible to agree.
Horrible Bosses is filled with multiple fan boy references to other, better films, but it’s an effort to imitate them that falls far short. That doesn’t imply it won’t clean up at the box office, but that’s become a meaningless indicator of a film’s worth.
Maybe if the screenwriters had done something truly daring -- trusted their audience to be as smart as themselves. But in that case it probably wouldn’t have gotten made.
Horrible Bosses opens nationwide on Friday.