Is your boss a sex-crazed maneater? How about a slave-driving psycho? Or perhaps a sleazy tool? My boss is Brendon, so I'm going to decline from answering any of the above questions in case he starts up the daily beatings again. Horrible Bosses is a good film with a few deep-set flaws that prevent it from being a great film, but the first thing you need to know is that it's funny, and if you do go to see it you will end up laughing a lot and will probably leave with a smile on your face. You will, however, also have to share a few uncomfortable silences with your fellow moviegoers when certain jokes fall flat or broadcast their punchlines so far and wide that somewhere on a desert island a heavily bearded Tom Hanks will look up excitedly in the belief he's just seen a passing ship.
Star power was a big selling point for this film, and the marketers quickly realised this and made sure every piece of promotional material screamed Jason Bateman! Kevin Spacey! Jennifer Aniston! Colin Farrell! in bright eye-catching colours and big chunky font. If I were a bee I'd have been wetting myself in excitement over the prospect of seeing this film.
There's no doubt that the producers assembled a great cast, but their presence is both a blessing and a curse. The performances are all strong, humourous and pitch-perfect across the board, though my favourite boss has to be Colin Farrell's cokeheaded political correctness disaster Bobby Pellitt. Charlie Day is far and away the funniest guy in the film if you're capable of getting past his phenomenally annoying voice (by the end of the film the frequent spikes of squeakiness were even starting to grow on me).
But no amount of great acting can fully diguise what comes down to bad work on the part of the screenwriters, who sacrifice realism and believable characterisation upon the altar of easy comedy, as if unconvinced that a film can be both funny and true to life. The three main characters are attributed with half-hearted quirks in an attempt to make them memorable, but really they're just the tired Hollywood trio of straight man (Jason Bateman), ladies man (Jason Sudeikis) and loveable idiot (Charlie Day). The same applies to the bosses: because they're supposed to be based on stereotypes that anyone can instantly recognise, they struggle to obtain any identity of their own.
The biggest victim in all this is Jennifer Aniston, who plays a painfully misconceived nymphomaniac, a character whose comedy factor is entirely derived from the rather strained joke of a hot woman being sexually attracted to Charlie Day. Aniston does her best and is definitely alluring in an orange sort of way, but her shock-factor dialogue was what elicited most of the aforementioned awkward silences from the audience (sample: Aniston suddenly leaps across a table at Charlie Day's crotch crying "I want your dong, Dale!")
What boosts the film is a combination of good acting and good directing. Seth Gordon has said that he encouraged the actors to improvise lines and ironically it's the lines and moments that obviously weren't in the script that got the most laughs. The organic back-and-forth interaction also adds substantially to the otherwise thin character development.
The result is a somewhat uncongruous clash between a farcical script and realistic performance and direction, which means that the film hovers uncertainly between a Three Stooges style vaudeville act and a straight-faced comedy of Jason Reitman flavour. But at the end of the day (and by that I mean at the end of the review) it's a comedy that makes people laugh, and I call that a success.