What’s your horrible boss story? Mine includes a toxic mix of recklessness, immaturity, bullying, homophobia, and blatant disregard for labor laws. The standard cocktail, I assume, with only garnishes to differ. My boss played favorites and regularly treated hers to after-work drinks and once a trip to Oman (ostensibly on business). Those who ran afoul got the cold shoulder or an early termination. The less fortunate received a humiliating, shouty dressing down in front of coworkers and clients; we all ended up with some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. One day I decided I wouldn’t take it anymore, so I did what any person with a horrible boss does – I quit.
Actually, that’s not what everyone dreams of doing. The guys of this dark comedy who don’t have the option of telling their bosses to screw themselves instead take it several hundred notches higher and decide to kill their offending superiors. It’s easy to see why since all can rightfully claim the title of “Most Sadistic.” Harken (Kevin Spacey), according to employee Nick (Jason Bateman), is the total fucking asshole variety of boss, exactly the type I imagine populates high-pressure financial institutions. Meanwhile, Julia (Jennifer Aniston), a dentist, crosses, rather leaps across other lines of workplace decency by sexually harassing her hygienist, the newly engaged Dale (Charlie Day). Only Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) shares a professional and nurturing relationship with his boss (Donald Sutherland), but that disappears when the latter dies from a heart attack, leaving his coke-snorting son, Bobby (Colin Ferrell sporting cinema’s most formidable combover) in charge of the company.
I haven’t figured out if this film is supposed to be a cathartic experience and, if so, for whom. Certainly it delivers the laughs and is uncompromising in its humor. The three friends are no slouches but in the face of persistent emotional and even physical abuse, they don’t end up making the best decisions. Their frustration, and ours, paired with their ineptitude leads to extreme situations that are funny in their absurdity. At one point, Nick and Kurt break into Harken’s house, leaving a coked-out Dale – it was an accident with a dust buster – as the lookout. Naturally, you’d expect Harken to show up, which he does, but the fallout has one of the party clinging to dear life and for a completely unexpected reason.
Where the movie works, it’s thanks to the actors who are relentless about their characters’ mission. That Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis don’t allow these disgruntled guys to look backwards only pushes the story closer to the edge. All three have that look of pent-up paranoia that makes you want to see them safely through to their goal, even if it means some sort of complicity in murder. It helps that Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell also take full advantage of their roles and play truly despicable people who themselves have broken multiple laws.
The lines blur when it comes to the writing, however. There’s a lot of smart comedy, but it hides behind cheap jabs at race, disability, and weight to name a few. Not having the wherewithal to carry out the murders themselves, the guys ask their car’s satnav for advice. There’s a joke about the operator’s unpronounceable Indian name and another about that of their black murder consultant. They end up hiring Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) after being directed to the most dangerous area in town because, well, you know. Somehow it’s funny that Julia rapes Dale, and his only recourse is to have sex with her on top of his unconscious fiancée or plot murder. Additional jokes about gender and sexual orientation are all thrown in for the sake of pushing boundaries, but many are delivered in a way that gives the audience license to laugh at whoever’s being made fun of. Even if I don’t prefer humor that shocks for the sake of it, I get the attempt and can stomach gags that involve shoving toothbrushes in certain orifices. I just don’t see why filmmakers didn’t make a better effort to offend in that way.
Prod: Brett Ratner, Jay Stern
Dir: Seth Gordon
Writer: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx
Time: 98 min
Country: United States