Dir. Seth Gordon
(2011, R, 98 min)

When Horrible Bosses begins we’re immediately aware of the hoops the film must go through just to make its premise work. Hoping to elicit laughs from three men (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) plotting to murder their abusive employers, it must first address two inherent concerns: (1) The bosses must be so overwhelmingly awful that we would sympathize with their prospective killers, and (2) if the bosses are so overwhelmingly awful, why not just quit?

The first issue is addressed through the amusingly brazen performances of Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey as the bosses. The second is addressed by some strained backstories about how the three characters are backed into a corner: one will be blacklisted at other companies, another is a registered sex offender (for a relatively innocent public urination incident) and thus unemployable anywhere else, and the last must protect his co-workers and the environment from dangerous business practices.

Lastly, the film must execute this plot without alienating the audience or wimping out. It succeeds at the first, but as for wimping out … well, yes and no. Careful to avoid spoilers, I’ll say only that the film bends over backwards to have its cake and eat it to, trying to deliver satisfying payoffs for the bosses while keeping the main characters likable. And I must give the film credit for its outcome: the screenplay by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein performs a herculean feat in not letting its own contrivance sink the story. We mostly believe the developments of the plot because they arise plausibly from the personalities of the characters, so it doesn’t feel like cheating.

I didn’t find myself laughing consistently throughout the film – there are dry spells between the chuckles, and no real gut-busters to speak of – and from time to time I wondered how this potentially cathartic premise might have been handled in a darker, deeper, more ambitious film, but for what it is Horrible Bosses is generally satisfying and, surprising given its R-rating and homicidal theme, rather endearing. It’s movie comfort food that succeeds at comfort.