Horrible Bosses

Directed by Seth Gordon

Opens July 8

Maybe riding the rails

between laugh-out-loud funny and clever/slightly shocking wears down an audience. Whatever the case, more laughs, and a few tears of joy, emerged during the bloopers in the end credits of

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Horrible Bosses

than during its hour-and-a-half running time—and that’s not out of a lack of effort, it seems, on everyone’s part. Considering the dependable comedic talent—Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx—the current culture of cruel humor, and terrible unemployment rates, chances are the premise of nice guys wanting to take their mean bosses out—and not for drinks—should work. But the movie just doesn’t gain any speed.

Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), an ambitious and hardworking businessman hoping for a deserved promotion, is instead screwed by his evil boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), who made promises and then laughed in his face. Single, Nick spends a lot of time bitching over beers with his two best friends: Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale Arbus (Charlie Day). Equally frustrated with shitty management, Kurt hates his new boss, the cokehead son Bobby (Colin Farrell) of his beloved and recently deceased boss Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland, with one line). Dale’s problem is less sympathetic but just as dire: His hot boss-lady Dr. Julia Harris D.D.S. (Jennifer Aniston in a brown wig with bangs) sexually harasses him big time.

Life, it seems, would be perfect if only these guys had nice bosses and the movie does explain why the dudes can’t just up and leave the bad bosses, including a silly little bit about a child molestation charge based on a late-night urination in a playground. (See—that sounds funny, right? And it is funny because it happens to Day’s character, and his energy drives most of movie’s best parts.) So the three friends decide to hire a hit man, whom they seek out by going to the most dangerous (read: black) part of town and walking into a bar looking for some criminal types (read: black) to do their dirty work. There they meet up with Dean “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx), so nicknamed to distinguish him from the actor in Disney’s 1968

The Love Bug

.

Ex-convict “Motherfucker” gives the boys advice to kill

each other's

bosses, and away they go on surveillance, making plans and taking names and generally failing at every turn. The three guys work together like the Three Stooges (read: not very effectively), and the actors don’t have to stretch much, as they’re basically playing the characters they always play, men who are very similar to the actors in real life (see: sidebar). Dale is the lovable goofball prone to screaming just as Day is on

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

; Kurt is quick-witted but impulsive and a little unabashedly sexual like Sudeikis’ running man character on

SNL

were he to speak; and Nick, the most pragmatic of the bunch, is rather mellow while staying beyond alert, always the straight man reacting to others just like Bateman on

Arrested Development

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.

But they all feel reined in, like director Seth Gordon went for the first take every time instead of letting his main actors play a while, feeling their way into the funny. His previous directing work includes the documentaries

Freakonomics

and

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

and some television, so maybe that experience wasn’t enough to succeed with what appears to be an easy comedy. There’s a weight to

Horrible Bosses

that feels like it shouldn’t be there. Thankfully, the ostensible villains bring much-needed lightness and spark to the action. Farrell plays the aggressively stupid and greasy Bobby Pellit to the point of distraction—you just don’t even notice the shitstorm that radiates around him. Foxx’s “Motherfucker” works a drinking straw like James Gandolfini worked a plate of food—there should be a different word for “prop” in these guys’ hands. But, really, Spacey as Harken nails you to the wall with his cold eyes and manic laughter—and makes you want him dead. Oh yeah, Aniston. She’s getting the most buzz as the sexually charged man-eater Dr. Harris, but she follows the three male leads as she has with every other character she’s ever played, including herself in interviews, except with a dirty mouth.

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