But economic times are tough, and with bleak outlooks we have bleak senses of humor. So for 2011, you can't just shove your job. According to Horrible Bosses, you have to kill your boss.
Actually, that's more an idle fantasy on the part of the suffering trio of Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis). All three agree their work lives would be better if the people they work for were dead, but they know they really just need to blow off some steam. Right? Right? Guys?
The fantasy plan shifts into high gear when Dale realizes that his horrible boss, dentist Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), will not stop until she turns his life into a scene from a porn film. While that in itself sounds like a fantasy scenario, Dale really only wants to be a happily married man to his fiancée, Stacy (Lindsay Sloane). Once Julia threatens to blackmail him if he doesn't give in to her sexual demands, Dale determines she has to go.
It's all the other two need to begin muddling through their own strange modern version of Strangers on a Train, aided by their "murder consultant" MF Jones (Jamie Foxx).
Horrible Bosses kicks free of being a realistic comedy early on, though at least it keeps to a fair set of rules. The action never breaks any laws of physics, but sometimes the script stretches believability a bit in the name of humor.
Yet underneath all the exaggeration are kernels of recognizability, such as Kevin Spacey's evil boss Dave Harken believing that it's perfectly okay to falsely promise promotions in order to get more work out of Bateman. That's called motivation.
Almost every character carefully nurtures illusions about themselves, and those interpretations are the lenses we view everything through. To stay sane (or less crazy), you have to play a part. Sometimes that's healthy – Aniston's character certainly has great self-esteem – and sometimes it's just preservation, as in MF Jones' playing to stereotypes.
Self-deception hits a high with Colin Farrell's coked-up Bobby Pellitt, determined to run his father's company (and Sudeikis' job) into the ground. It's also a great masquerade for Farrell to appear paunchy with a bad comb-over and even uglier on the inside. Yet the one-time "Sexiest Man Alive" commits thoroughly to it, part of an ongoing campaign as a character actor.
The script carries through to a mostly logical conclusion, and Director Seth Gordon stages everything well. More importantly, he juggles the timing of scenes nicely, bouncing among several idiosyncratic rhythms.
Bateman has a throwaway delivery that even when expected still makes lines take you by surprise. Though his character Nick isn't particularly different from most of his roles, Bateman gets a lot of mileage out of it.
While Sudeikis' Kurt may not be quite the lady killer he imagines himself to be, the SNL vet subtly gives warmth to a character that could have just been an extension of the one he played in the execrable Hall Pass. If anything, Kurt is the kind of role that Owen Wilson would have nailed five years ago, and though Sudeikis has a different energy, maybe Hall Pass was a passing of the torch.
Day doesn't seem much different from his work on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but he doesn't need to be. His character stays high strung in good times and in bad, and it gets laughs.
Horrible Bosses works as a solid comedy, not quite great, but at least in the ball park. Extra points to it for acknowledging that riffing on Strangers on a Train has been done before, in Throw Momma from the Train.
It's a nice moment of self-awareness, letting a point of view peek through. The underlying reality that inspires Horrible Bosses may not be inspiring to us, but at least when times are tough, the best thing we can do is laugh.