Some movies are not designed to be analyzed or valued. They are to be consumed and then disposed of. “Horrible Bosses” is one of those movies that is like a Big Mac, it is not good for you, if you think about it too long you will feel guilty about consuming it, but while you are in the middle of it, it goes down pretty well. Nowadays, most films are in one of two camps; great big blockbuster or esoteric indie material. There needs to be room in the middle for movies that are entertaining to a larger audience but do not require the entire budget of a small South American nation to produce.
This movie is in that middle area. It is made by professionals, it looks good for the most part and it does not involve six months of CGI to make any scenes work. So it has to work on the basis of the premise, the script and the performances. The premise is high concept comedy. Oppressed workers consider killing their bosses to get out of their misery. Murder is often used to comic effect in movies despite being a serious subject and socially taboo. If we buy into the concept that this is just a comedy and that the actions that follow are not an endorsement of the behavior, we should be able to laugh at the complications as they come up. When I was a kid, I remember watching a Glen Ford movie called “The Gazebo” which focused on the efforts of a largely likable man to hide the body of a murder victim. It was hysterical when I was nine or ten, so that must be the point at which we can distinguish real from imaginary crimes.
There are sufficient plot complications to make the story amusing, although sometimes the complications are a bit of a stretch and do not advance the story. We get plenty of reasons to share the view of our protagonists in the story. The bosses are indeed horrible. The explanations concerning why each of the characters feels murder is the only way out are adequate but not always realistic. It sound silly to discuss realism in what is essentially a Three Stooges movie with an R rating. We don’t need too strong a reason to buy into the plan, but if we think there is an obviously rational alternative, it will not be the comedy of desperation but instead the humor of sadism that moves us forward. There are a couple of sustained sequences of humor as each of the three desperate employees participates in an information gathering break in at their bosses house. On joke from Annie Hall is repeated but with enough of a twist to make it amusing. There is also some broad physical comedy involving a pert, and they manage to get three laughs out of it.
The performers are ultimately going to be responsible for selling this and making us laugh. The three bosses are a little underdeveloped but they are actually played by the three biggest names in the cast. The marketing for the film does point out their presence but it never suggests that they are anything more than supporting players in the movie. The leads are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day. Bateman is a solid actor who has been in dramatic films but ism largely familiar as a comedic actor. The other two I am unfamilar with but I suspect they are in some comedy show that I have not seen. They seem to be solid at playing the humor for what is in the script pretty well. There are a lot of throwaway lines that have a kernel of humor in them, and they get just enough attention to make us hang on. I had about five or six big laughs in the movie, and a dozen or so smiles and chortles. It is not brain surgery, it is a ninety minute summer comedy that plays well enough to entertain for a while.
We need to continue to have films that play to a broad audience so that our social system continues to function. Shared communal experiences give us something for small talk and common references. You can recommend or warn people away from a movie, but it helps if it is a movie that enough people have seen that they might be drawn to it, and it can’t be something everyone will have seen because then there is limited interest in the discussion. I don’t mean to suggest this movie will save Western Civilization, but the fact that it exists means that couples can go out on a date. They can share the experience, and they can forget about it quickly if it interferes with their lives. It also means they can laugh together a couple of times and not feel like there is too much riding on that silly ninety minutes.