Horrible Bosses features some of the most inspired casting you’ll find in any big studio comedy this year, with three actors playing against type with exceptional success. Unfortunately, those three performers — Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston — are the supporting acts here, the titular vile bosses of three of the most boring white guys imaginable.

Sure, they’re played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, funny men all, but the stars lack the charisma, the comic energy and the overall appeal of the aforementioned A-listers, who go to some truly whacked-out places. It’s a fundamental miscalculation that filmmaker Seth Gordon can’t overcome.

Whenever the picture steps back from Dave Harken (Spacey), psychotic soul crushing top man at the company employing Nick Hendricks (Bateman), it loses its luster. Farrell, as the off-the-wall cokehead Bobby Pellitt, is a riot of bad hair, brow sweat and low-rent redneck swagger. Kurt Buckman (Sudeikis), his second-in-command, is a square. Aniston, as the perpetually horny Dr. Julia Harris, deliciously expels vile pornographic bon mots. Dale Arbus (Day), the employee she sexually harasses, is too much a middling, effete weakling to be taken seriously.

You get the idea. Shamefully, the picture wastes such promise with a plot that involves the three underlings plotting to kill their bosses and a narrative that consists of the same conceptual joke repeated ad nauseam: These white collar bozos sure are out of their league. It’s not a particularly inspired notion, and in the realm of black comedies there are much blacker places to go than the light depths plumbed here, where the worst obstacle is a frenzied car chase or a low-key run-in with the cops. The requisite farcical chaos plays strangely rote and sedate, in no small part because the leads just don’t cut it.

The screenplay disposes of any pretense of back stories for the main characters. Beyond Dale’s fiance (Lindsay Sloane), needed solely to make the aggressive sexual attentions of a beautiful woman seem unwanted, these guys seem to have nothing and no one but each other. That’d be fine if the trio’s relationship was sufficiently complicated, or imbued with any real feeling, but it’s just a pawn for lots of plot that goes nowhere. Bateman and Sudeikis conjoin their familiar shticks, as if competing in a deadpan-with-a-sleazy-streak contest.

Whenever they’re on screen it’s hard to not crave more of Aniston, or Spacey, who gleefully crushes Bateman’s dreams of a promotion, or Farrell, who demands that Sudeikis “fire the fat people.” That’s mean, crude and funny, which was, one supposes, the point.

The Upside: Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell. All hilarious.

The Downside: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. All boring.

On the Side: Seth Gordon’s made the top-notch documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Check that out instead.


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