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Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman and Charlie Day have all established clear comic personas on their respective TV shows-- Sudeikis the chameleonic everyman of Saturday Night Live, Bateman the dry-witted straight man of Arrested Development, and Day the manic half-wit of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Cast as a trio of slightly dim best friends in Horrible Bosses, the actors don't meld their comic skills into a safe middle ground, but instead crash against each other marvelously. Even with an episodic and predictable script and some strangely lackadaisical direction from Seth Gordon, Horrible Bosses is entertaining and brazen, a clear reminder that to make a good comedy, all you've really gotta do is make it funny.
The central trio of Sudeikis, Bateman and Day is crucial to the movie's success, shouting and scheming over one another and exploiting increasingly hilarious friction as the three friends get deeper into a plot to kill one another's bosses. Though these guys are relatively normal for this kind of broad comedy, each employer is more outrageous than the next-- Colin Farrell as a comb-overed martial arts expert cokehead, Jennifer Aniston as a sexually aggressive dentist, and especially Kevin Spacey as an sadistic corporate titan, essentially his Swimming With Sharks character in middle age. It takes just a few short leaps in logic, though more of the film's run time than necessary, for the guys to go from bitching about their bosses over beers to attempting to hire a hitman named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) to help kill them.
Horrible Bosses never quite finds steam as a caper, instead leaping from one comic set-up to another that get funnier but don't build on each other as well as they could have. The nattering, nervous banter between the three guys is the highlight of every scene, all of them playing off each other's energy in remarkably generous and consistently surprising ways. Though Day is often the standout, his manic high-volume comedy all the funnier when removed from his usual It's Always Sunny context, Bateman gets laughs by staying stone-faced through entire scenes, and Sudeikis's chattery ladies man character lays out some of the most hilarious nonsense lines in the film. The three actors really do feel like friends, an excellent contrast to the hollow bro-isms of The Hangover Part II and a cheerful, knowingly absurd vibe that helps Horrible Bosses over the numerous bumps in its screenplay.
The bosses, though playing "bigger" characters and each getting their moments, don't benefit from this kind of ensemble energy. Farrell's character feels especially underused, though quite effective in his limited scenes and while Aniston and Spacey are both dynamite when tormenting their respective underlings, only one of them really gets to take advantage of it by becoming a crucial part of the main story. The script from Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Michael Markowitz includes a lot of really funny jokes and scenes that stand well on their own, but overall lacks the solid structure that could have bumped it up to the next level. Like Bridesmaids, still the summer's best comedy, it makes up for its messy structure with laughs, energy, and characters worth going on this ridiculous adventure with.