Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Horrible Bosses

Horrible Busses is what they should call a supercut of all the disgusting times when that gangster made out with his mom on Boardwalk Empire.

Every Throwback Thursday, I randomly pull out from my desk cabinet--with my eyes closed--a movie ticket I saved. Then I discuss the movie on the ticket and maybe a little bit of its score, which might be now streaming on AFOS.

Horrible Bosses is a comedy that should not work. See what I did there? "Work"? Yet it somehow does. Its running time is a commercial-TV-friendly 100 minutes, which often screams out "lame studio product." It overuses The Heavy's overplayed "How You Like Me Now?" Jason Bateman is basically rehashing Michael Bluth at his least optimistic. Jason Sudeikis, who was a great utility player on SNL, plays an Indian name-mangling, skirt-chasing frat-bro type who's the most obnoxious of the film's three disgruntled worker characters when he's not sharing scenes with the always hilarious Charlie Day or playing straight man to an unhinged, buried-under-a-combover-hairpiece Colin Farrell. Horrible Bosses' third act contains a pointless car chase intended to wake up restless and bored teenage smartphone zombies who are checking their texts inside the theater. Only the car chases in Color of Night are more pointless.

Finally, there's been a lot of talk lately about how PG-13 has sanitized Hollywood movies so much that the kind of audacious, unconventional and grown-up fare that used to frequently hit theaters in the '70s is found on TV these days instead of in theaters, and all the shitty, mindless and bland TV shows Fred Silverman and Aaron Spelling subjected late '70s kids to (plus all those 30-minute toy commercials '80s kids grew up watching) are what's currently dominating the multiplexes. Once in a while, Hollywood will attempt to break the monotony of PG-13 blockbusters with an unapologetically R-rated studio comedy modeled after the popular works of Judd Apatow, Adam McKay and Todd Phillips. At times, Horrible Bosses feels like Warner Bros./New Line Cinema wanted to get a little piece of that Apatow/McKay/Phillips action by doing a raunchier, more homicidal take on Office Space's brand of disgruntled-worker comedy and rehiring the entire Office Space cast, but instead of getting any of the real MVPs of that 1999 cult classic (Stephen Root, Veep regular Gary Cole, his current Veep co-star Diedrich Bader, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Richard Riehle, the O-face guy, the "case of the Mondays" lady...), they got only Jennifer Aniston from that movie's cast.

She's the kind of dentist whom both pre-religious, late '80s Prince would have written dirty songs about and Rick James would have written ripoffs of Prince songs about.

So all those things should have brought Horrible Bosses down. But they don't, thanks to the comedic skills of both The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters director Seth Gordon--who, together with writing partners Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks!), dusted off a 2005 Michael Markowitz screenplay that came from the Black List roster of beloved unproduced screenplays--and an ensemble whose joy in getting to curse up a hard-R storm and play such unhinged characters is infectious instead of off-putting and self-indulgent. Well, actually, Day gets to curse up a storm on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia all the time, although he can't say "fuck" because of FX and FXX's weird ban on "fuck."

Danny DeVito, Day's It's Always Sunny co-star, and his 1987 hit movie Throw Momma from the Train are mentioned at one point in Horrible Bosses by Day's dental assistant character Dale. If Horrible Bosses were made in the '80s, DeVito would have played one of the titular bosses Day, Sudeikis and Bateman's quietly frustrated everyman ineptly attempt to murder (unlike the disgruntled Initech employees in Office Space, Dale and his friends actually like their jobs; the only thing they hate about work is their bosses). DeVito's the one thing that's sorely missing from Horrible Bosses, which is such an enjoyable and well-paced throwback to '80s DeVito black comedies like Throw Momma and Ruthless People. Fortunately, standing in DeVito's place are Farrell, who's usually exhibit A in the case of British, Irish, Scottish or Aussie actors who suck at doing American accents, but he pulls off a convincing American accent in Horrible Bosses; a dark-wigged and totally game Aniston in an oversexed-dentist role I find to be funnier than much of her material as Rachel on Friends (it's my favorite comedic performance of hers); and Kevin Spacey as foul-mouthed office bully Dave Harken.

Spacey's horrible boss character is how I wish Spacey played Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, even though I prefer Spacey's take on Luthor over Gene Hackman's. Imagine Luthor, freed from both the language restraints of PG-13 and Bryan Singer's annoying slavishness to Richard Donner's Superman and the worst aspects of that 1978 blockbuster, particularly the Hackman Luthor's propensity for lame real estate schemes. To borrow a catchphrase from one of Spacey's Oscar-winning performances, that would have ruled. There's a great little piece Abraham Riesman wrote for Vulture called "What Can Superhero Movies Learn from Whiplash and the Other Best Picture Nominees?" "Our super baddies tend to be either tortured (like Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen as Magneto), enjoyably ridiculous (e.g., literally every villain in the Iron Man trilogy) or blandly blusterful (can we retroactively give Michael Shannon a Loudest Yelling in a Motion Picture award for Man of Steel?)," said Riesman, who wishes that superhero movie villains were written more like the J.K. Simmons character from Whiplash. I'd add the equally mean and foul-mouthed Harken from Horrible Bosses to Riesman's interesting suggestion for Hollywood to opt for a more Whiplash-like mindfucker as a supervillain.

His real name is Dean Jones, but he prefers to go by Motherfucker Jones. So that means if you ever call him 'Snowball Express,' he'll bite your fucking ear off.

There are so many little things that make Horrible Bosses hold up to repeat viewings, from the funny way Jamie Foxx sips his drinks as image-conscious "murder consultant" Motherfucker Jones--it's nice to see Foxx taking a break from serious roles and reminding us how he used to kill as a sketch comic on In Living Color--to the weird way Julie Bowen's philandering housewife character keeps referring to Dale, after he inadvertently saves her husband Harken's life, as "this young man," as if she's June Cleaver or Marion Cunningham whenever she'd address the Fonz as "Arthur." Also, blink and you'll miss The Wire's Chad L. Coleman as a bartender, scowling over the Sudeikis character's tendency to stereotype black folks in a now-interesting little moment where Coleman is much calmer than during his recent viral outburst on a New York subway in response to a racist passenger calling him the N-word.

But the chemistry between Day and Sudeikis, who previously worked together on a 2010 It's Always Sunny episode where Sudeikis guest-starred as Charlie's rival Schmitty, is the most enjoyable of all those little things that make Gordon's 2011 surprise hit hold up. Last year, Day, Sudeikis, Bateman and nearly all the rest of the Horrible Bosses cast reunited for an unnecessary and much-maligned sequel I won't waste my time watching. It was also a sequel neither Goldstein/Daley (who went on to co-direct the upcoming Vacation reboot starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate) nor Gordon were involved with. I doubt Horrible Bosses 2 is even as hilarious as the 2011 SNL sketch that reunited Sudeikis with Day, who played a pop-culturally illiterate homicide detective canvassing an apartment crime scene.

Day was so hilarious and so committed to embodying the lunacy of his cop character in the "Crime Scene" sketch--just like how he's so committed to embodying the lunacy of Charlie on It's Always Sunny--that it's one of the rare times Sudeikis broke character on SNL and laughed, but Sudeikis didn't let his corpsing derail the sketch for too long because he's a professional, not like Jimmy Fallon during most of the times he used to corpse on SNL and the sketch would just die a horrible and unwatchable death because of it. Like in Horrible Bosses, Sudeikis played the exasperated straight man very well in the SNL sketch with Day, and I like how his "Oh, come on!" sounds exactly like his frustrated off-screen reactions to the bad reporting and racist antics of elderly news reporter Herb Welch. Sudeikis' reactions were actually the second funniest part of Bill Hader's Herb Welch sketches, right below Herb's outdated references.

Not even the return of Horrible Bosses composer Christopher Lennertz has made me want to watch Horrible Bosses 2. The first Horrible Bosses is elevated by an original score where Lennertz "put together a band that would record the score together the same way that they would make an album," as Lennertz himself described it in the Horrible Bosses score album press release. His all-star team of musicians included DJ Cheapshot of Styles of Beyond and Fort Minor on turntables, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and on keyboards, frequent Beastie Boys collaborator "Money" Mark Ramos Nishita. Money Mark's keyboards are the first thing you hear during the Beastie Boys classic "So What'cha Want" from Check Your Head. I've said before that Ad-Rock's original score to director Jeffrey Radice's No No: A Dockumentary is the closest we'll ever get to a second Beasties all-instrumental album after MCA's death. Thanks to Money Mark's funky contributions to the Horrible Bosses score, it's like a third Beasties all-instrumental album.

"[The Horrible Bosses score] isn't overproduced or shiny and digital in any way. It's brash, noisy and full of bravado and swagger," said Lennertz in the score album press release. He recorded his score cues on two-inch analog tape instead of digitally, as a way of--like Gordon said while being interviewed by WaterTower Music--channeling the music Dale and his friends might have listened to while growing up in the days before digital music consumption, just like how a cassette of Check Your Head was one of my favorite things to borrow from the public library back in high school. It's also the same kind of music that helped me endure some shitty jobs, even though none of my bosses were so abusive they made me want to murder them like how Dale and his pals are driven to murder in Horrible Bosses, a surprisingly solid disgruntled-worker farce that overcomes its hackiest elements to show how effective and satisfying hard-R studio comedy filmmaking could be--think Slap Shot or Robert Zemeckis' sharp and raunchy 1980 cult classic Used Cars--when it fired on all cylinders and before PG-13 ruined everything.

None of the all-star score cues from Horrible Bosses are currently in rotation on AFOS, but they ought to be.

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