Sunday, September 8, 2013

3 shrt prgrphs: Horrible Bosses

2011, d. Seth Gordon (King of Kong)

I'm finding so often that the Hollywood system has very little to offer in the way of meaningful comedy these days.  They can assemble all the right parts, but they all too rarely wind up being fairly homogeneous, if not outright disasters.  Comedy is best suited for short bursts -- set-up, build, punchline -- not 90 minutes to 2 hours.  Television is ever doing better with comedy because it's allowing comedy to live and grow unfettered, to have an unedited voice by way of liberated venues like Adult Swim, FX and IFC.  The success of Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Louie, or the creative triumphs of the 15 minute format in Children's Hospital or Eagleheart make the traditional 3-camera laughtrack/studio comedy somewhat embarrassingly puerile.  There are exceptions both on network and on screen, but they are just that, exceptions.

Horrible Bosses, on paper, appears to be a good farce, but the problem it has is it doesn't really know what it wants to be.  Is it trying for the Judd Apatow bent of believable and relatable characters,  is it looking for the outrageousness of the Hangover, or is it looking for the Mike Judge-esque skewering of everyday life?  It's got a solid cast of talented performers with Always Sunny's Charlie Day, SNL's Jason Sudekis, and The Hogan Family's Jason Bateman in the lead and some surprisingly and adeptly outrageous performances from Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Ferrell as the titular bosses, but the performances aren't the problem here.  They're all uniformly solid, great even.  The material just doesn't have enough punch, the predicaments the characters find themselves just never makes the leap to suspension of disbelief.  It's not smart enough to play it naturally and still be funny, and it never pushes it far enough to be farcical.

Director Seth Gordon spent a few years directing comedies for television -- Community, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Modern Family -- so he has definitely had a taste of how comedy is done and done well, but he just cannot elevate a mediocre script.  The comedies that seem to be most successful (if not necessarily commercially so) all seem to be driven by a unified creative team with a singular vision, whether it's Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, or Adam McKay/Will Ferrell, among others.  Having the focus of a writer/star or writer/director is, for the most part, what is making the most memorable comedies these day.  Horrible Bosses isn't terrible, but in a decade it won't be memorable like Anchorman, Tropic Thunder or Bridesmaids will.