Just about everyone has had a boss at one point or another so odious as to inspire homicidal fantasies. Channeling those feelings into an escapist comedy should be easy. The key, of course, is to make sure that your protagonists are likable, and we feel as though they're genuinely put upon. We may not endorse their attempts at murder, but in order for such things to be funny, we have to at least empathize with the characters.
So who do we get as protagonists in HORRIBLE BOSSES? First we meet Nick (Jason Bateman), a shallow ass kisser who values money over integrity. His friend Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is the kind of guy who skates through life, always getting what he wants without effort. That's especially true when it comes to women, who he treats only as sex objects. That makes whiny, spineless dental assistant Dale (Charlie Day) the most likable character by default.
As we meet each of these characters in turn, we're also introduced to their bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Anniston). Each boss gets a freeze frame labeling them as psycho, maneater, tool, etc, etc. Sure, the bosses live up to their labels, but since the characters we're supposed to relate to and root for are kind of dicks themselves, it's hard to really care who comes out on top.
The sense of humor in HORRIBLE BOSSES is exceedingly dumb and vulgar, which isn't necessarily a deal breaker for me. The problem is that it's not funny. Profanity in and of itself does not constitute a joke. And while I sincerely believe funny jokes can be made about the most unfunny things in the hands of a comedian with enough talent, such a comedian was not responsible for writing the jokes here about prison rape and sexual harassment.
That so many talented actors signed on for this third-rate knockoff of a Judd Apatow or Todd Phillips raunch-a-thon baffles me. Aside from those named already, Jamie Foxx and Donald Sutherland have small roles, and a certain beloved sitcom star has a cameo at the end. I was also surprised when I looked up the credits on IMDB and learned that director Seth Gordon was responsible for the excellent documentary THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (2007) and some segments of FREAKONOMICS (2010). Certainly the screenplay for HORRIBLE BOSSES doesn't do him any favors, but Gordon apparently thought he could make something out of it, and he failed. My advice to Gordon: stick to nonfiction.
HORRIBLE BOSSES is a bad movie. Leaving the theater after watching this film, I just felt kind of depressed. Other people seemed to think the movie was funny. I even overhead one audience member saying this was the funniest movie he'd seen in a long time. Maybe that guy just doesn't see very many movies. Or maybe I've lost my sense of humor. Roll the dice and find out which for yourself if you like, but don't say I didn't warn you. 1 out of 4 stars.