Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Every Worker's Fantasy

That's right! Even though I'm a little behind on the new releases, Mr. Anderson is back in theaters! Anyone else as excited as me? Hello?

I'll take the cricket chirps as a sign of support.

Anyway, my return to the big screen begins with a film I didn't even know I'd be seeing this year. As I transcribed the comprehensive Summer Movie Preview back in May, Horrible Bosses was barely a blip on my radar. Sure, I knew it starred Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell and the amazingly-talented Kevin Spacey, but there wasn't much more information available than that. No trailers (that I could find) had been released. Sure, it was getting a wide release, but so did Dylan Dog, and look what happened to that one. It wasn't until June that things finally began to come together, and Horrible Bosses actually became a film I wanted to see in theaters, and not just put off for DVD like so many Cedar Rapids. After all, how many of us have had desire for bad things to happen to our less-than-perfect bosses? Sure 99% of us would never do anything about it (I'm watching you 1% closely, you hear?), but here is a film that lets you - even if only a little - see what that experience would be like.

Athos, Porthos and Aramis they ain't
Three friends, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), hate their jobs. More accurately, they hate their bosses, who do everything in their power to make their lives miserable. Nick, who slaves for insurance company President Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), is passed over for a promotion that he rightly deserves, with Harken taking the job himself. Kurt actually used to love his job working at an industrial warehouse under Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland), but when Jack dies from a heart attack, Kurt is stuck working for his son Bobby (Colin Farrell), a lazy, cocaine-addicted good-for-nothing. Dale is engaged to be married, but constantly faces sexual harassment from his man-eater boss Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), who has some compromising photos taken from a time when Dale was drugged into unconsciousness. With the option of getting new jobs not available to the three, they hatch on a plan to murder their evil superiors. Hiring local criminal "Motherfucker" Jones (Jamie Foxx) to consult them on the fine art of assassination, the three embark on a mission many have considered, one few would actually follow through.

Everybody say hey! Everybody say ho!
Obviously Horrible Bosses is meant to be fantasy; that much is obvious. What isn't necessarily obvious is how funny attempted murder can actually be. Seeing Nick, Dale, and Kurt somehow bungling their way through this caper is hilarious, almost feeling as if the cast made it up as they went along. Any good comedian will tell you that great comedy is in your timing, and the direction of the film by Seth Gordon and a great screenplay come together to quickly and unexpectedly derive laughter from the audience with that very skill. Sure, there are the expected jokes that the trailers prepared you for, but thankfully the best stuff wasn't saved for preview audiences, as you're just as surprised by the cracks as you are by where the story goes. While the film goes on a few potty humor binges, it's encouraging that minor themes such as unemployment and sexual harassment are explored to some degree along the story's course. Sure, I don't expect much more than a cursory look, but that it bothers at all is a surprise and does the film all the better.

Don't you hate when Jennifer Aniston does that?
The cast is also a big part of why Horrible Bosses works so well as a comedy, as both heroes and villains have essential roles to play in the film's events. The good guys all have sympathetic goals. Bateman's Nick just wants a fair shake for all the hard work he's done, and while this role isn't a stretch from Bateman's recent work (Paul being an exception), he's still supremely qualified for this role, and makes a good frontman for the film to settle on. Day has wowed some good friends of mine on his FX show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but this was the first chance I've had to see him in a leading role, and that his character of Dale just wants to live in a "rape-free" workplace is unusually endearing, especially since most films would have had Dale as a female character with an overly-amorous male boss. This reverse positioning is really thinking outside the box, and Day makes the character all the more fun with his quirky attitude. Sudeikis is surprisingly good as a straight man, with his more quirky characters (like that in last year's Bounty Hunter) making him look like an extension of his Saturday Night Live career. Fortunately, he makes use of his comedic background while not coming off as a complete caricature in the process, his Kurt just hoping for a return to the workplace that he once loved.

Would you trust this man? They did.
As I mentioned before, the bad guys did some great work, too. Spacey of course was as amazing here as he is in just about everything he's ever done. Sure, he plays no Verbal Kint or Lester Burnham, but he still kills as a jealous, power-hungry psycho, and the film does well situating him as the main villain of the story. Farrell is also good as a smarmy lout, and the actor apparently had a lot to do with the character's creation, to his credit. Farrell is often overlooked when naming great modern actors (not entirely his fault, but hey he tries) but this smaller role is yet another good one. Jennifer Aniston is really the only disappointment, but that's not the actress's fault. While it's great seeing her change pace and take on a completely unlikable character, the role doesn't have as much to do with the main story as Spacey's or Farrell's. This results in an unfortunate imbalance among the film's foils, with Spacey taking up most of the time from Farrell and Aniston, whereas the three good guys have more or less equal playing time. Jamie Foxx slums it up as "Motherfucker" Jones (which leads to some hilarious dialogue). I guess now that he's won that Oscar, he doesn't care quite as much about what roles he takes; still, he does a good job here as his character advises the others how best to murder their enemies.

Mr. Anderson never condones a comb-over
Let me be the first to say that Horrible Bosses is one of the few 2011 titles that has had me laughing from beginning to end. I can't even say that about Bridesmaids, though that film made up for it by having much more heart. Still, there was nothing wrong and a lot right with this modern workplace fantasy, which took great actors, gave them a good script and good direction and let them run with it. The result is pretty amazing, and there's every chance that Horrible Bosses could wind up as the most gut-busting film this summer. Do yourself a favor; if you haven't already seen this title, don't wait for the DVD release. You'll just be postponing one of the funniest experiences this year, and who wants THAT?

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