To complain about a mean streak in Horrible Bosses, which is about three bumbling friends who agree to permanently eliminate each other’s abusive superior, may seem to be missing the point. After all, this is a comedy about killing.
Yet onscreen murder doesn’t have to be quite this mean-spirited. Consider 1955’s Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which Alec Guinness plays eight different murder victims in what amounts to an assassination farce. Or Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, from which Horrible Bosses borrows its murder-swapping plot. Strangers is both chilling and cheeky. These films are silly first and never sadistic. By comparison, Horrible Bosses is just plain nasty.
Not that the bosses here don’t deserve some payback. After eight years of brown-nosing, Nick (Jason Bateman) has been passed over for a promised promotion by his conniving CEO (Kevin Spacey). Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is stuck in a family business that has recently been passed on to the family’s bullying, cokehead son (Colin Farrell). Dental assistant Dale (the delightful Charlie Day) suffers continual sexual harassment at the grabby hands of the nymphomaniac dentist (Jennifer Aniston) for which he works. Stuck in their situations due to the brutal job market (there is a funny, terribly crude Lehman Brothers gag explicating this), they feel their only hope is to knock off their bosses.
The vitriol in Horrible Bosses is directed at more than the title villains, however. Women in general and sex in particular are the cause of much ire. This especially includes Aniston, a talented comedienne stuck in a depressingly demeaning part. She’s either being overtly sexualized or being punished for her overt sexuality. Julie Bowen, as the pathologically unfaithful wife of the Spacey character, essentially serves the same purpose. (She’s fetishized, then condemned.) It’s telling that these are the only female characters to speak of.
Horrible Bosses would have benefitted greatly if its boys’ club had been broken up. Imagine the richer possibilities – not to mention better use of Aniston’s talent – if she had been one of the trio of put-upon workers. (I’d trade her for Sudeikis any day.) The troubling thing about Horrible Bosses isn’t that the rampant sexual humor is so crude, but that it’s so angry. This is a mildly funny comedy with some deep issues to resolve. It could use some time on the couch.