Movie review in the Friday, July 8 Oregonian...
As its lead characters remark at one point, the murder plot in "Horrible Bosses" is a comically complicated version of the scheme from "Strangers on a Train," or maybe more accurately "Throw Momma from the Train." Three low-key schmucks (Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis, Charlie Day) are driven to contemplate homicide by their sadistic supervisors (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston). The schmucks' "murder consultant" (Jamie Foxx) advises them to kill each other's employers while making the deaths look like accidents.
The complications that follow provide much of the pleasure of "Horrible Bosses" -- a disheveled R-rated comedy that generates a steady stream of mid-key laughs, but could probably stand to sharpen up several of its characters.
On paper, those characters are pretty great. Bateman's white-collar workaholic is tormented for fun by an obsessive, gleefully dark-hearted VP played by Spacey, a man prone to such nonsensical pronouncements as "You can't expect to win a marathon by putting Band-Aids on your nipples!" Sudeikis is a horndog account manager at an ethically run chemical company that becomes wildly unethical once it falls under the control of an idiot cokehead (Farrell, under tons of makeup). And Day (the Bruno Kirby-soundalike costar of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") plays a dental assistant whose engagement is endangered by the sexually-harassing blackmail of his nymphomanical dentist boss, Aniston.
The problem (and it's one of those problems you can choose to ignore, because the movie's pretty funny) is that director Seth Gordon ("The King of Kong," "Four Christmases") and his team only really have a handle on one-third of those characters. The movie's strongest when it stays with Bateman and Spacey, who play greatest-hits remixes of their best-loved performances -- Bateman riffing on the effortlessly deadpan everyman he's perfected in "Arrested Development" and everything since, Spacey riffing on the dead-eyed sarcastic underminer scumbag we've adored since his calmer moments as Mel Profitt on "Wiseguy." The rest of the cast fares less well: I didn't buy Sudeikis in a Bradley Cooper womanizer role and couldn't reconcile his pro-environment, pro-murder code of ethics, and Day alternates between meek and idiotically hyper. And their respective bosses, Farrell and Aniston, get a lot less screen time than Spacey, as if Gordon and crew didn't quite know what to do with their more cartoonish villains.
But, again, the movie's amusing enough, and its plot twisty enough, that you can gloss over the half-baked elements. The Bateman/Spacey scenes play like an evil "Office Space," Ferrell and Aniston are clearly having a ball playing unleashed sexaholics under prosthetics and bad wigs, Foxx is extremely funny as an ex-con with questionable haggling skills who lets the trio project any level of menace they want onto him, and there are inspired set pieces throughout (especially an extended break-in at Ferrell's horrifyingly decorated, cocaine- and gadget-filled home). Stay for the end-credits outtakes, which may contain the movie's funniest moments.
(100 min., rated R) Grade: B
'Horrible Bosses' (The Oregonian, Friday, July 8, 2011)