Jason Bateman as Nick gets an official dressing-0down from Dave (Kevin Spacey) in the new comedy “Horrible Bosses," now playing at area theaters.
Jason Bateman as Nick gets an official dressing-0down from Dave (Kevin Spacey) in the new comedy “Horrible Bosses," now playing at area theaters. (Photo by John P. Johnson)

In "Horrible Bosses," murder is justified where the title characters are concerned. These bosses are so bad that no jury in the land would convict the frazzled employees who hatch a scheme to bump them off.

Just as there is nothing subtle about this comedy's homicidal premise, its crude jokes ensure that nearly every scene does its part to merit the "R" rating.


Although a lot of what happens in "Horrible Bosses" is both criminal and outrageously implausible, the humor is so gleefully raw that your ethical defenses will crumble, and you'll laugh more often than you might care to admit. In the summer sweepstakes for such movies, "Horrible Bosses" nips at the heels of "The Hangover, Part II."

Any hope that the movie will be an insightful look into workplace inequity is quickly dashed by the near-cartoonish presentation of these offices. The three male friends who concoct the murder scheme have plenty of aggravating office stories to swap when they get together for a beer.

Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) is an accountant at a small company whose owner, Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland), is a kindly patriarch. When Jack suddenly dies, however, his playboy son, Bobby (Colin Farrell), assumes leadership of the company. Bobby is a cocaine-addicted martial arts fanatic who treats his employees with such arbitrary disdain that Kurt has reason to cultivate resentment.

Things are no better for Kurt's pal, Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), who works for a larger company. Nick plays by the rules as he aspires to climb a few rungs on the corporate office ladder, but his boss, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), is an egomaniac who sadistically enjoys stringing Nick along with the promise of a promotion.

Even by Spacey's expansive standards, Harken is a white-collar monster. Nick has just about reached the breaking point.

Kurt and Nick have relatively self-confident personalities, but their friend Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) is as meek as he is short. Nervously docile Dale works as a dental assistant for Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), whose dental practice mostly consists of her practicing how best to seduce Dale on the job.

The logic motivating this third plot strand is as thin as dental floss. You don't have to be a card-carrying feminist to be somewhat disturbed by the thankless role taken on by Aniston. While sedated patients sit in an oblivious state in her dental chair, Dr. Harris practically throws herself at the unreceptive Dale. Indeed, her personality only consists of this impulse to seduce her assistant.

Let's start with the pesky fact that it's professionally unethical for a dentist to behave in such a manner. "Horrible Bosses" only aspires to be a silly comedy, so let's set that prudish reservation aside. Let's next consider the fact that Dale is devoted to his fiancée and has no interest in the dentist; and let's further consider that the nerdy Dale does not exactly seem like a prize catch for anybody.

While we're piling on reservations, let's note that Dr. Harris' one-dimensional personality and the virtual absence of screen time for Dale's fiancee are extreme examples of how "Horrible Bosses" is a male buddy-buddy-and-buddy comedy in which women are either ferociously aggressive or nearly absent. These many reservations can't be easily shaken off while watching the movie.

Once Dale, Nick and Kurt agree that their unreasonable bosses need to be permanently removed from the workplace, the movie becomes a crime procedural whose overriding point is that these three guys are hopelessly inept when it comes to killing their bosses.

If logistical aspects of their scheme remind you of Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train," it's a bit of borrowing that's amusingly acknowledged by director Seth Gordon and screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. Characters overtly reference "Strangers on a Train" as they go about their planning.

Some of their ill-conceived murder plotting is funny, but other plot twists are so stupid that they just seem, well, dumb. The movie becomes busier, but that does not translate to funnier.

Also inconsistent, is the use made of a talented supporting cast. Although actors such as Donald Sutherland disappear too quickly from the story, others get the chance to develop their characters. Best of all is Jamie Foxx as a street-smart fellow whose profession could be listed as murder consultant. His comic timing is so sharp that the movie perks up when he's around. Grade: B-

"Horrible Bosses" (R) is now playing at area theaters.