Producers try to force it all the time, and the results are often unpleasant. It's called "chemistry," and as any science professor can tell you, some elements have it, others do not. And when several incongruous elements fight for chuckles at the same time, the final result is something like Couples Retreat or Just Go With It or pretty much any Happy Madison production you can think of. Those movies are wretched.
"Plot" can often be secondary when a comedic team works well together, and that's precisely why the paper-thin but alarmingly funny Horrible Bosses works so damn well. Structurally, the flick is little more than a dark, new riff on the ideas laid down in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, but with three strong comedians in the front seat, one is able to forgive the conventional "plot stuff" and focus on what works: namely, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis.
Director Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) and his small gang of screenwriters seem to be well aware of the "dark sitcom" familiarity of their script, so they wisely allow the three leads to foster an oddly amusing rhythm that elevates Horrible Bosses well above its minor potholes. And speaking only as a guy who's been a Jason Bateman fan since a forgotten old sitcom called It's Your Move, I was more than a little excited to see the man working -- and cooking -- with a pair of disparate but well-placed co-stars. Plot-wise. you know the drill: three beleauguered stooges decide to kill their bosses. This is not Shakespeare. But it is a very entertaining mixture of black comedy, colorful energy, and creative vulgarity. The flick's only major problem is that it runs a bit too long for a raucous farce of this ilk, but the laughs outweigh the slow spots by a healthy margin.
Nick (Jason Bateman) is working under a vile manipulator played by Kevin Spacey. Already we're off to a good start: Bateman's laconic dryness pitted against Spacey's venomous bile is a cinematic tennis match worth savoring.
Dale (Charlie Day) works for a disreputable female dentist who has reinvented the term "sexual harrassment." As played by Jennifer Aniston, the dentist is indeed tawdry and tempting, but, unfortunately, not all that funny. The novelty of hearing TV star Aniston spit out vile sex talk gets old real fast.
Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is mourning the loss of a beloved employer, and doubly so when a cokehead scumbag takes over and makes Kurt's life a living hell. Colin Farrell plays the consistently sleazy Bobby Pellitt, and to say the guy steals scenes whole with his over-the-top freakiness would be a massive understatement. It's not surprising to see Farrell playing silly, but it's kind of awesome that he's so damn good at it.
So the three knuckleheads, at the behest of a criminal called Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx, also funny), decide to commit three murders, which leads to a series of misadventures that appear inspired by some of Blake Edwards' goofier farces from the late '70s and early '80s. Whether the plot threads are "intelligent" is not the crucial factor; what matters is how the actors keep the material humming. Energy, chemistry, timing, and a palpable sense of fun are the essential components of a breathless comedy like Horrible Bosses. Of course, a big dose of well-delivered potty-mouth is always a welcome spice.
A conventional concept given new life by way of a sharp comic sensibility and a bunch of actors who are clearly having a good time with their farce, Horrible Bosses is not brilliant, unique, or even all that powerfully memorable -- but it is funny. About 15 times funnier than the global favorite The Hangover, if you ask me.