An attempt to recast “9 to 5” as an Apatow-esque slob comedy, “Horrible Bosses” turns out to be a lightweight, mildly ribald farce that offers some stray laughs, smothered in a morass of “Three Stooges”-style dumbness.
Junior exec Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), chemical company drone Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) and dental assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) are best buddies who are all bedeviled by their bosses—respectively Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), a tyrannical manipulator who denies Nick his long expected promotion, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell), a drug-addict sex fiend who takes over when his father (Donald Sutherland) suddenly dies, and Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a nymphomaniac who has her way with unconscious patients and demands sex with her engaged aide. The three speculate about killing their bosses, at first jocularly but then in earnest.
Of course they’re utter bunglers. A first attempt to hire a hit-man (Ioan Gruffudd, wasted) proves an embarrassing misunderstanding, and the second saddles them with a “murder consultant” (Jamie Foxx, quite funny) who encourages them to follow the “Strangers on a Train” gambit and off one another’s targets. Their efforts to gain “intelligence” on the three would-be victims get them into deeper and deeper trouble, and the trio ultimately wind up in the cross-hairs of one of the bosses, who’s already killed another of them.
There’s the makings of a rapid-fire comedy of errors here, but the potential fades quickly. The screenplay offers some amusing bits, but apart from the occasional dour observation from Nick, voiced quietly by Bateman (when a cop questions his contention that he drag-races in his Prius, he mumbles, “I don’t win much”) they mostly come from the supporting cast—not so much Spacey, Farrell and Aniston (all of whom are encouraged by director Seth Gordon to play to the rafters), but Foxx and, in a cameo toward the close, Bob Newhart. Nor does Gordon manage to keep the material up to the speed it needs. Instead of adopting a breakneck pace like Preston Sturges, for instance, would have brought to such stuff, he’s content to allow things to amble along, with scenes stretched out and lots of dead spots that he should have tried to fill.
Part of the problem is that he seems much too permissive with his leading men, who are far less hilarious than he seems to believe. The best of the three is Bateman, who continues his career renaissance as the most rational of the three guys, bringing a degree of level-headed charm to the nonsense. But Sudeikis doesn’t connect in the same way as the un-hip fellow who thinks he’s cool but always manages to say the wrong thing (and his easy seduction of a pretty wife—a lynchpin of the badly-constructed finale—stretches logic past the breaking point). And Day is forced and, ultimately, a mite irritating as the dim-witted but supposedly lovable put-upon dental assistant.
With a production that’s adequate but little more (ordinary cinematography by David Hennings, fair editing by Peter Teschner, a score that hits the obvious points by Christopher Lennertz), “Bosses” isn’t horrible, but it isn’t sharp or sprightly enough to earn more than an occasional mild chuckle.