Jason Bateman, one of the great comic discoveries of the 21st century, has simple chops: a well-timed mumble, a face used to record tight-lipped resignation, and a look of dismay that never seems condescending. In Horrible Bosses he plays the patented Bateman bottled-up role, a good man with an idiot tyrant for a boss named Dave (Kevin Spacey). The film opens with them arguing over a two-minute difference on a time clock, and even though Spacey’s bellicosity wins the argument, Bateman’s swallowed pride is far more eloquent.
Bateman plays well with others, too, and particularly against Jason Sudeikis (of Saturday Night Live fame); the script gives them frequent opportunities to shift from straight to fool. Sudeikis is both a sweet lug and a lothario. When he meets the wife of evil boss Dave, he says he didn’t know he married a model. “I’m not a model,” she protests. “When did you quit?” he replies smoothly. Ten minutes later, she’s taken him off for a romp—and we believe it.
But the film is limited by its own self-consciously derivative premise: three guys who plan to kill each other’s bosses à la Strangers on a Train and Throw Momma from the Train (they get the movies mixed up onscreen, too). There are twists, and director Seth Gordon tries—though not very well—to give the film a solid footing in its Los Angeles setting. But it comes down to comic interactions, and besides some jubilant gags from Jamie Foxx, this okay farce would have been simply horrible without Bateman.