By Niall McArdle
I’ve lost count of the number of times Jason Bateman has played the Vice President of Accounts, or the Senior Account Manager hoping to become Vice President of Accounts, or the eager young sales associate looking to impress the Boss. He’s played the part so often and so well I wouldn’t be surprised if he moonlights as an account manager on the seventeenth floor of an anonymous corporate headquarters, where he has to endure the soul-deadening routine of life in a cubicle, annoying office-mates, office birthday parties, and an absolute prick of a boss.
Bateman is something of a throwback: there aren’t many actors who are willing to be the straight man, the guy who doesn’t get to do the broad comedy that gets the big laugh. He’s frequently the responsible, play-it-safe suburban stooge, the man who has to keep his head while all around everyone is losing theirs. He does manage, however, to get in some of the driest, more memorable comments on the proceedings: in an earlier age he could have given Melvyn Douglas, William Powell and Cary Grant some competition.
He has become such a smooth leading man in light comedies that it’s easy to forget his early appearances in things like Silver Spoons and Teen Wolf Too. He served his apprenticeship into grown-up roles in the brilliant Arrested Development, where he mastered a look of quiet despair as he frequently could only wonder what his family was thinking.
Horrible Bosses is a slave-wage revenge fantasy. It doesn’t quite have the savage bite of Office Space (both films, interestingly, feature Jennifer Aniston), but that is perhaps a reflection of the times we live in (Office Space came at the end of the 1990s, when the economy was booming: Ron Livingston could act out at work and his coworkers could smash the printer, and they still got to keep their jobs). In a moment of recession-reality, the heroes of Horrible Bosses realise that they simply can’t afford to quit.
As a broad comedy, it’s more enjoyable than Identity Thief or The Change-Up (two other Bateman vehicles where he plays a suburban, SUV-driving corporate stooge who is struggling to hold the whole thing together).
Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day play three friends who each have horrible bosses. Bateman suffers under the tyranny of a nasty Kevin Spacey; Sudeikis works for coke-head Colin Farrell, and Day is a dental assistant to the sexually voracious Jennifer Aniston. They hate their jobs. They hate their bosses. The only thing to do is kill them, so they meet Jamie Foxx, who acts as their “murder consultant”. What follows is a series of set pieces: sometimes inspired, sometimes second-rate, mostly crass, and often very funny.
Spacey can do nasty mean boss in his sleep, and I wish he had been given more to do. Farrell chews the scenery: he has some of the funniest lines, but it’s a one-note character. Aniston, however, is brilliant. This may be her best comic performance to date, a blend of sexual aggressor and psychotic delivered at just the right level.
Sudeikis delivers on the promise of his talent that he showed on SNL. Day plays the flat-out crazy friend, the numbskull: the child, in other words, of the other two. At one point, Bateman even suggests he’s in need of a tie-out. It’s the Lou Costello or the Zach Galifanakis part.
Verdict: Three and a Half Toothbrushes in the Ass out of Five