Horrible Bosses is, so far, this summer’s most promising comedy. In part due to a darkly hilarious, and bitterly relatable plot, but mostly due to the brilliant amalgamation of the distinct comic styles of the three stars, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. With this the trio at the center of Horrible Bosses, it’s hard to avoid comparing them to the “Frat Pack,” and more specifically the trio at the center of Old School: Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell.
Old School, like Horrible Bosses, has a hysterically outlandish plot, but the real humor in the film lies in the differences among the main castmembers: each of the three men offer a different comedic angle that, when combined, produced a formula that, eight years later still makes Old School one of the funniest movies out there. Though by no means unique to the raunchy comedy, this three-man formula is what launched this group to stardom. The film uses this dynamic to highlight the unique comic strengths of Wilson, Vaughn and Ferrell–each playing to his strengths as the Straight Man, the Wiseass and the Basket Case, respectively. Horrible Bosses seems to have recognized this, as a strikingly similar opportunity is availed in this film to Bateman, Sudeikis and Day. All most famous for their television roles (Bateman was the star of Arrested Development, Sudeikis is still one of the funniest featured players on Saturday Night Live, and Charlie Day is the reason to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), their distinct stylings offer just as much to the big screen as they do to the small screen.Following in the footsteps of Wilson, Vaughn and Ferrell (who, of course, were following in the footsteps of other famous threes in comedy: Stooges, Amigos, Men and a Baby), Bateman, Sudeikis and Day are the natural embodiments of a comic routine that is sure to incite laughter.
With this in its arsenal, Horrible Bosses could turn out to be the Old School for Bateman, Sudeikis and Day—perhaps the first in a long line of hilarious film collaborations.
As is the case in so many comedies, at the center of a group of madmen, idiots and philanderers is someone who is passable as a functional human being. Whether his strength be intelligence, morality, or just simply the propensity to listen to reason once in a blue moon, this character often plays as the leader of his mentally inferior comrades. In Old School, the role was occupied by Wilson—a sad-sack who just didn’t have it in him to be as big a jerk or a fool as his buddies. Wilson garnered our sympathy as he played, scarily naturally, the kind of guy that bad things just happen to. The sort of Job figure who accepts his bad fortune, but sees very clearly the error of it all. But Bateman is no Job (joke excessively intended). He’s acerbic, aggravated, and at constant odds with all of the forces against him. Bateman amplifies the levelheaded character into so much more than just a vehicle for a perspective on the insanity around him. The actor turns the very idea of the sole grounded character into hilarity. Bateman can play frustrated, dumbfounded and put-upon so well that you ache with sympathy for him—even when he’s lashing back at his moron friends or family members with unrelenting pompousness and (in the actor’s own words) “natural dickishness.” Bateman’s sharp tongue, self-righteous attitude and excusably condescending delivery allows for him to turn the traditionally boring role of “the straight man” into comedic masterwork time and time again.
To release the tension in high-stakes situations like planning frat parties…and murder…there needs to be a wiseass in every group. Someone who doesn’t really seem to be taking any of the consequences all that seriously. A perpetually quipping, deep-voiced “man’s man” whose only significant fixations are carnal. One of Vince Vaughn’s earliest of many wisecracking performances was displayed in Old School, and in Horrible Bosses, the role is fulfilled by Jason Sudeikis. The deliveries of these two comedians are heavily divergent: Vaughn is notorious for an unparalleled rapid-fire delivery, shooting off a few dozen marked critiques at all those who surround him in under a minute. Sudeikis is more of the laid back type: he’ll cough out a joke at anyone’s expense with that incurable grin on his face. As his most notable work is sketch-work on SNL, Sudeikis probably conjures a more versatile list of types than his two costars. He also terrifically played Floyd, the “only decent boyfriend” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) ever had in a recurring role on 30 Rock. But his talents really shine as the laid-back joker, invoking aggravation in his uptight gang leader due to his refusal to accept any semblance of sincerity or genuine maturity. The key to Sudeikis’ greatness is that you truly believe that if the actor himself were in any of these situations, he’d react the same way. Real-life Sudeikis doesn’t seem like he’d be all that bothered by his involvement in a murder plot. Art imitates life. Thus, we are granted the perfect “wiseass.” Hilarity ensues.
The Basket Case
Bateman is the King of the group. Sudeikis: the Joker. And now, of course, we come to The Wild Card. Winning the audiences of every comedy worth its salt is someone who traverses into territories that are beyond human. A character stricken with a level of stupidity, mental instability, amorality, substance abuse, self-destructive habits or just general lack of regard for anything that could be remotely recognizable as normal. Charlie Day, as Charlie Kelly in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is the epitome of EACH ONE of these qualities. In Old School, Will Ferrell stole the show as the brain-dead Frank “The Tank” Rickard, and it’ll be no surprise if Day delivers a performance of this caliber in Horrible Bosses. Ferrell has carried his ‘hysterical buffoon’ for nearly a decade. Most recently, he brought touches (or minefields) of the persona to his character on The Office, DeAngelo Vickars. The actor is famous for a perpetual blank-faced confusion, high-volume outbursts, and a complete misunderstanding of human coordination. Charlie Day, though…he’s where this routine stops evoking a sense of childlike innocence, and begins to resemble a very dark, hilariously horrifying emotional disturbance. Even at his calmest, Day always seems to be on the brink of a nervous breakdown. He stammers uneasily through casual social interaction. He faces backbreaking challenge with ideas that a first grader would fine tediously simplistic. And when his fuse is lit—it always happens sooner or later—he explodes into a hurricane of incoherent shrieks, destruction of property, and the undercurrent that he might drop dead at any second. And I don’t think I’m being too optimistic to think that Day has plenty of other tricks at his disposal that we’ve yet to see. The exemplification of a human being that has had all but life itself beaten out of him: that’s what you want in your “basket case.” And that’s what Day does best.
I know I’ll be angering a lot of people by saying that Horrible Bosses could be this group’s Old School. Sure, Old School was a modern classic. But don’t be so sure that Horrible Bosses won’t be the same. With a team like Bateman, Sudeikis and Day, all doing what they do best, I have nothing but high hopes for the movie and for the future of these guys’ film careers. Let’s just hope none of them get involved with another Blades of Glory.