Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day star as three fed-up buddies drinking at a bar and swapping bad work stories. They don’t necessarily hate their jobs, they just hate their horrible bosses. Hey, that sounds like it could be a movie title! Anyway, after a little too much drinking, one of them suggests the idea of killing their bosses. The other two find the idea amusing, but he’s not joking. Before long they have attracted the counsel of a former felon known as Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx, who once won an Oscar!), who, inspired by “Strangers on a Train” comes up with the idea of the three guys each killing the other person’s boss so that nothing gets traced back to the person who works for said boss. Needless to say, with these three amateurs, things don’t go according to plan. Kevin Spacey is Bateman’s boss, a mean-spirited bully who manipulates Bateman and callously cheats him out of a promotion. Jennifer Aniston is Day’s boss, a horny dentist who apparently doesn’t know that ‘No means no’ and doesn’t care that Day has a fiancée (Lindsay Sloane). Yeah, I don’t feel so bad for him, either. Colin Farrell plays the balding, cokehead son of Sudeikis’ grandfatherly boss Donald Sutherland, which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Sutherland didn’t up and die, leaving the completely irresponsible shithead in charge. Ioan Gruffud has a cameo as a potential hitman who turns out to be not quite what the guys were expecting. Julie Bowen (in a too-small role) plays Spacey’s horny wife. Brian ‘Babu’ George voices Atmanand, the helpful Indian operator for a car’s GPS.
Directed by Seth Gordon (of “The King of Kong” fame), this 2011 comedy is funny enough to get a good rating from me. Hell, it’s a lot better and funnier than the “Hangover” movies, that’s for sure. And that’s good considering it’s one of those films that plays better in the moment than it does on reflection. Looking back on it, the plot rips off “Office Space” (and both star Jennifer Aniston), Kevin Spacey rips off his own performance in “Swimming With Sharks”, the Jennifer Aniston character doesn’t remotely convince, and by the end, I really wasn’t sure how I felt about the main characters and their behaviour. In fact, the ending is really quite awful for a number of reasons, and the tone seems to get darker (and the film less funny) the longer it goes on.
But first, let’s go with the good. This is a pretty funny film, no doubt about it. So long as you’re not easily offended, you should have a pretty good time here. Especially funny was seeing our protagonists mix up “Strangers on a Train” with “Throw Momma From the Train”, and I’m still chuckling about the reveal of Jamie Foxx’s character’s rap sheet. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing that Motherfucker Jones has a badass name, because that’s about the only badass thing about him. Kevin Spacey might be repeating his “Swimming With Sharks” performance to a large extent, but let’s face it, Spacey is terrific at being a glib, cold-hearted bastard, it’s not just in “Swimming With Sharks”, it’s been his stock and trade (even in dramatic work). Typecast or not, Spacey’s the right guy for the role, and he and Foxx get most of the best moments, though Bateman deserves credit also for being an appropriate punching bag for the venomous Spacey. The scene where Spacey screws Bateman out of a promotion is key to his evilness, because Spacey can’t really be called out on it, because as is noted, Spacey is taking on more of the workload. And yet Bateman, and the audience, know that Bateman is really getting screwed and that Spacey is a heartless bastard.
Colin Farrell’s not in the film enough to escape his rather gross caricature (the makeup job is a little silly and he’s not nearly as funny as Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder”), but the scene where he tries to get Sudeikis to fire either ‘the fatty or the cripple’ is hilarious, even to me (Me being in the latter of the two groups Farrell is insulting).
It’s when we get to the Charlie Day and Jennifer Aniston characters that the wheels started to wobble for me. In addition to Day’s vocal intonations bordering on Bobcat Goldthwait, I never once believed in this situation, certainly not nearly enough to find much of it funny. For starters, while sexual harassment against males does exist and it isn’t a laughing matter, I gotta side with Day’s pals here who just don’t take him seriously. I mean, it’s Jennifer Aniston, not Melissa McCarthy (no offence to Ms. McCarthy). The scenes of sexual harassment are too overblown to convince, there’s just no way the Jennifer Aniston character would operate like that in the real world, or even the world as it is depicted otherwise in the film. Yes, it’s a comedy, but it still needs to convince to a certain extent. Jennifer Aniston (who for once is kinda hot, I’m not a fan) gives a completely forced and unconvincing caricature of a performance, in addition to constantly reminding us we’re watching a film clearly inspired by “Office Space”. It’s Jennifer Aniston being Rachel from “Friends” acting like a sex-crazed, foul-mouthed loon. That is not the same as Jennifer Aniston disappearing into a role or stretching herself, and it’s the problem I’ve always had with her. Even when playing a role completely alien from her “Friends” character, she’s retaining a lot of the tics and mannerisms of Rachel. She never once seemed credible enough in the role (nor naked enough, if you ask me. Why is it that actresses will say all manner of disgusting things but rarely show their perfectly healthy bodies? In a film like this it makes no sense) in order to have sympathy for Day’s plight, certainly not enough to think that murder is the best and only available option to him. I mean, he could’ve actually slept with her. I wouldn’t recommend it in the real world (infidelity is wrong, of course), but Aniston is playing such a caricature and surely infidelity is a much lesser crime than murder, right? Especially when it’s obvious that it would stop the harassment (Perhaps not in the real world, so don’t take my advice necessarily!). Call me strange, but I really do feel more uncomfortable with Aniston being murdered than say, Farrell (For starters, he’s a cokehead likely to OD at some point anyway). Perhaps there’s some kind of outdated sexual politicking on my part here, but it didn’t sit well with me, even if I could take the caricature as a character.
And I think that’s the problem with this film, preventing it from being more than it is. As funny as it is, it wants to be a black comedy mixed with an exaggerated Apatow-esque gross-out comedy, and the two subgenres of comedy don’t gel so well. I guess screenwriters Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein (who have a background in TV apparently) are fans of black comedy, but felt the film wouldn’t be marketable without Jason Sudeikis shoving toiletries up his clacker. Especially near the climax, the gross-out and slapstick stuff gets a little out of hand, with Day seriously unfunny as he trips out on coke (drug humour didn’t make me laugh in “The Hangover” and it doesn’t here, either), and a last minute ‘deus ex GPS’ that doesn’t for a second hold up to any intelligent thought (If good ‘ol Atmanand were really doing his civic duty, surely he’d tell the cops what he knew about our three protagonists attempting to hire a hitman!). I was also left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth considering one person ends up in serious trouble with the law due to false information derived (intentionally or not) from the actions of our protagonists. Yes, it provides a little bit of an ironic twist on the “Strangers Throw Momma From the Train” motif, and yes, the character was an a-hole, but...I dunno. Maybe if the film were an out and out black comedy, it would’ve sat better with me, but as is, I wasn’t keen on the last third or so of the film.
I also need to take the film to task on its familiarity to “Office Space”. The difference between the two (aside from “Office Space” being better) is that instead of taking revenge on corporate schmucks by ripping the company off financially, these guys attempt to take to murder instead. Other than that, the basic premises are the same, and it’s obvious to anyone who has seen both.
But look, for the most part, this is a funny, if unoriginal film. At any rate, it’s better than the “Hangover” films and certainly funnier than “Bad Teacher”. Sometimes ‘funny’ is (just) enough.