This week’s Popcorn: “Horrible Bosses”

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By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

I’ve had some horrible bosses. Not quite “can’t wait ‘til they die so I can stomp on their graves” horrible, but horrible enough to be able to relate to the dire quandary best buddies Nick, Dale and Kurt are faced with in director Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses.” Of course, unlike the boys, I never contemplated killing any of the stinking slave drivers.

Yes, it has come to that, and damn the consequences per an inconsistent screenplay that’s never endearing or funny enough to win our suspension of disbelief. OK, so there are some droll scenes in a “Dumb & Dumber” sort of way. And while we can’t believe anyone would hire these dudes in the first place, we still feel sorry for the poor fools.

So meet the commiserative trio, all at their wits end thanks to the untenable position each has been put in by his heartless taskmaster. Jason Sudeikis’s Kurt Buckman was on easy street at Pellit Chemical, where he was the No. 2 man until his paternalistic mentor died. Now he has to deal with his idiot, coke-headed son, Bobby, played by Colin Farrell.

Just as bad in another way is Kevin Spacey’s Dave Harken, the big honcho where Jason Bateman’s Nick Hendricks was expecting an imminent vice presidency. But surprise…the rotten cad was only dangling the spot to make our guy work harder. Adding insult to injury, the tyrant is quite proud of himself.

And then there’s Dale’s predicament. Living the male fantasy turned nightmare, dental assistant Dale, played by squeaky-voiced Charlie Day, is beset by the unremitting sexual onslaught of his nymphomaniac employer. Making it worse, because Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S., is proficient at anesthetizing folks and putting them in compromising positions, she’s blackmailing diminutive Dale.

That’s right. Be her Lothario or she’ll tell his fiancée a whole pack of lurid lies. Making it a double whammy, because Dale is a registered sex offender (bogus charge or not), if he doesn’t cooperate the lustful doc also threatens to report him to the authorities. The film’s only memorable performance — Jennifer Aniston’s bawdy dentist is a hoot.

Laying it on with a fervor heretofore rarely seen in her movie career, the pulchritudinous exhibition makes one wonder if Brad will have second thoughts about giving Jennifer the gate in favor of Angelina. Through word and deed that would make Mae West blush, the lovely Miss Aniston affirms that she has graduated from her girl next door image.

Otherwise, the film possesses no other notable features. The plot to murder the three horrible bosses takes a predictable, screwball route, replete with an atypical hit man portrayed by Jamie Foxx, his first name unmentionable in this space. Silliness prevails, with credibility tossed out the window. Sillier yet would be to take any of it seriously.

But while a farce doesn’t necessarily have to be believable, there’s a sliding scale of tolerability. If we’re busy laughing, who cares if it makes sense? In the case of “Horrible Bosses,” it simply isn’t humorous enough to justify the irksome lapses in plausibility. These ordinary fellows make the switch to potential killers all too readily.

You see, in the 11th hour, Mr. Foxx’s Blankety-Blank Jones explains why he can’t personally do the deed. However, in consideration of the $5,000 retainer he’s taken, he will advise. But he has only one bit of counsel for the desperate pals. In order to avoid the establishment of a motive, it would be wise if each man killed the other’s boss.

This arrangement paves the way for a bevy of confusion and illogicality that soon dissolves into a general free-for-all posing as a plot. A few running gags pepper the scenario, and from a helter-skelter script one gleans the occasionally amusing moment. However, it’s the horrible bosses themselves who keep this film afloat.

Forgetting for a second that this is supposed to be funny, which, regrettably, isn’t all that difficult, we note the title characters are not only vile but downright criminal. At a minimum, each deserves dismissal. Some even warrant legal prosecution. Still, much as they might conjure memories of our own tormenters, straight up execution is a tad stiff.

But, once convinced of their course, none of the three disgruntled employees exhibits the slightest angst over killing a fellow human being. In other words, they’re about as loony as their prospective victims. Thus, aside from being somewhat curious as to how things will turn out in the end, we inevitably lose interest amidst the flood of contrivances.

Too bad director Gordon didn’t have the wherewithal to impart some kernels of wit and wisdom about despotism in the workplace. In addition to tempering the gobbledygook, it would make the comedic failure less obvious. Unfortunately, like the truly grave problem it professes to address, “Horrible Bosses” is hardly a laughing matter.

“Horrible Bosses,” rated R, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by Seth Gordon and stars Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis. Running time: 98 minutes