Horrible Bosses comes on the heels of Bad Teacher and, like that film, is not terrible but not great. They're both cases of comedies that could have been funnier, smarter and just plain better.
With Horrible Bosses, the potential for improvement seems even greater than the underachieving Bad Teacher. Unlike that Cameron Diaz vehicle, Horrible Bosses has even more going for it -- particularly among the aforementioned bosses. Which means just more wasted opportunities.
Directed by Seth Gordon, whose previous feature was the similarly overstuffed and underfunny Four Christmases, Horrible Bosses is about a trio of longtime pals, each of whom likes his job but hates his boss. Nick (Jason Bateman) is an office drone who works for a manipulative tyrant (Kevin Spacey, in Swimming with Sharks mode). Dale (Charlie Day) is a hygienist who works for a dentist (Jennifer Aniston) who constantly harasses him sexually, though he repeatedly reminds her that he's engaged. And Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) manages a chemical plant for a great boss (Donald Sutherland), but winds up working for the boss' drug-addled son (Colin Farrell in a hilarious combover) when the boss drops dead.
Each of the buddies reaches a breaking point with his boss and they collectively decide one drunken night that hiring a hitman is the only solution. Since none of them is even remotely street, they have no clue how to find a killer; Dale's attempt to locate one on Craigslist goes very wrong (though not as amusingly as you'd hope, despite an outstandingly deadpan cameo by Ioan Gruffudd).
So they use their version of OnStar to find a bar in the part of town with the most auto thefts -- and there, they happen upon a guy named M.F. Jones, played with a scalpful of tattoos by Jamie Foxx. (The M.F. stands for exactly what you think it does -- and it's not Marshall Fine.) But rather than agree to take their bosses out, he offers to be their "murder consultant" -- then exhibits his cinema literacy by suggesting they take a pointer from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train and kill each other's bosses.
Which is where Horrible Bosses goes south. The trio of screenwriters spends too much time dawdling with these goof-ups doing a Three Stooges imitation, while keeping the comic mayhem to a minimum. It all turns into a jumble of sudden, arbitrary violence, a car chase and predictable reversals.
The writing for the heroes is too hit-and-miss to be consistently amusing. While Bateman is a reliable straight man with killer timing and deadpan, Sudeikis as the overconfident one and Day as the easily panicked one simply don't have the material against which Bateman can react. There are laughs - but not the kind of explosive laughs that, say, the Farrelly brothers used to elicit in their prime.
Meanwhile, the biggest comic talents in the film -- the bosses -- don't get nearly enough screen time. Spacey, Aniston and Farrell -- as people behaving badly -- seize every opportunity to run wild, but don't get to do that often enough. Spacey gets the most chances and Aniston comes close (getting raunchy in very funny ways). But Farrell, as the dumbest of the three bosses, is treated as a sight gag (the combover), rather than a character.
So, yes, you'll get some laughs from Horrible Bosses -- and you may not think it's horrible. But saying it's not horrible is another way of saying that this movie is consistently disappointing.
Click here: Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine