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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Horrible Bosses' plays too safe to be great

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Horrible Bosses

(R)

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Too often missing the mark as the black comedy it thinks it is, “Horrible Bosses” instead plays out as a broad physical comedy with forced story devices and frat-boy-level giggles. Penned by three network TV sitcom vets, it scores high on the shock meter yet is sorely lacking in attitude or a cohesive plot.

In a time where most people are grateful to just be employed doing anything, the leads here (three reasonably well-off 40-something white guys) all have legitimate reasons to gripe but none have cause to consider murdering their tormentors. If director Seth Gordon and the writers really wanted to deliver a good movie they would have made the crime blackmail. That would have been far more interesting and plausible (and probably funnier). It doesn’t help matters that the leads don’t have the collective nerve to kill a fly much less a person. They’re also unfocused, inept and often unlikable.

Fairing the relative best with the strongest reason to complain is Nick (Jason Bateman), a white collar upper-management type who, despite years of dedication and long hours, can’t snare that elusive promotion to VP of sales. Toyed with and mercilessly chided by company CEO Dave (Kevin Spacey, essentially recycling his character from “Swimming with Sharks”), the mealy-mouthed Nick is a doormat and Dave treats him accordingly.

The most outgoing and gregarious of the leads, chemical company manager Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) gets his jolt when the boss he likes (Donald Sutherland) dies and is replaced by his cokehead, prostitute-addicted, comb-over son Bobby (Colin Farrell). Crafty enough to forever outthink the dim Bobby, Kurt’s biggest problem isn’t his job but rather his tireless sex addiction.

Providing polar opposite to Kurt is dental hygienist Dale (Charlie Day), a man who is either secretly gay or asexual. At once the most implausible and funniest subplot in the film, Dale is sexually harassed by the man-eating dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston). Sighting his upcoming marriage to another woman, Dale steadfastly resists Julia’s blunt overtures and not a single second is believable.

While some may not find Aniston attractive, most people do and having her parade around in next-to-nothing, talking dirty (make that very dirty) and playing a sex-crazed nymphomaniac who can’t seduce a dweeb like Dale is totally unfathomable.

If Julia had been played by someone like Camryn Manheim, Rosie O’Donnell or Melissa McCarthy, Dale’s refusal would make a lot more sense. It would also help if the Dale character was played by more of a guy’s guy. Despite the hackneyed premise, Aniston totally nails the character and delivers her best performance since “The Good Girl.”

Thanks to Aniston and a memorable cameo from Jamie Foxx, the movie is able to barely deliver a tiny sliver of the nasty attitude it hints at throughout but is too timid to actually carry out in full. If it didn’t play it so safe, wasn’t so eager to please and not offend, “Horrible Bosses” could have joined the ranks of “Swimming with Sharks,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “9 to 5,” “Working Girl” and “Office Space” as an outstanding Boss From Hell flick instead of a tentative, half-baked summer also-ran. (New Line)