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'Horrible Bosses' doesn't dig deep, but that's OK

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In its wildest dreams, "Horrible Bosses" would have captured a bit more of the "Office Space" spirit also exhibited by decent poetry and memorable stand-up comedy, a sense that someone is articulating a widespread but mostly unacknowledged sentiment, and that we can now describe, as a group, ideas that we'd all been cooking up separately. Of course, "Office Space" tanked in theaters and Mike Judge had to wait until the magic of DVD for it to achieve, slowly, true cult status. By contrast "Horrible Bosses" is unlikely to suffer quite so much at the front end nor bloom so strongly. It's a solid wad of chuckles now, with just enough to endear it that you might watch it one day when it comes on cable, if there's nothing else on.

Far from exhibiting the weasel-sleaze of a Lumbergh, the titular antagonists of "Horrible Bosses" are caricatures of stereotypical Bosses From Hell: Kevin Spacey (spitefully lording over Jason Bateman's Nick) as the Corporate Slimeball; Colin Farrell (scornfully, over Jason Sudeikis' Kurt) as the Family Company Brat; and, lo, Jennifer Aniston (lasciviously, over Charlie Day's Kenny) as the Domineering Letch. Between those six, and an appearance by Jamie Foxx as a slick hoodlum with an unprintable name, the cast surpasses the middling source material. Even when you don't care what's going to happen, the players are beguiling. Bateman in particular makes comedy look effortless, and Aniston, far from her "37 pieces of flair" days, is a creepy delight as a sex-fiend dentist.

She and the other bosses manage to push their respective employees to the breaking point and beyond, such that the men convince themselves that it would be not only convenient but morally righteous to whack their bosses. But how to do it? Nick is a white-collar drone. Kurt is randy as a goat and has all the street smarts of a new puppy. Kenny watches enough "Law & Order" to know not to leave any fluids at a crime scene but is also a twerp. They aren't bumbling idiots so much as they are reasonable fellows hopelessly out of their depth. It's no small feat that even while undertaking highly unlikely acts, the three leads all seem fairly plausible, and director Seth Gordon ("Freakonomics") mostly skips right along, bothering with nothing that ain't at least worth a giggle.

If it's brisk, the film also misses a chance to plumb more deeply into what makes work such a great environment for inspiring homicidal thoughts. One conceit the story makes clear is that these guys are trapped in their stations because the job market is such a sinkhole that none of them could plausibly quit and be able to put beer on the table. Part of what makes Kurt's plight so acute is that he actually enjoyed his life working under his previous boss. When the cokehead replacement starts demanding that people get fired just for his own jollies, you start doing the math in your head. How many livelihoods is a life worth? If you start melting people's working lives, how long can you go unpunished? When one of the guys' friends, a former Lehman Brothers employee, says he could just kill those Lehman Brothers, you squirm a little and wonder how many others have made a similar declaration, not in jest.

Sam Eifling

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