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Harass-holes: “Horrible Bosses,” “Larry Crowne,” and “Zookeeper” PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Sunday, 10 July 2011 13:01

Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, and Jason Bateman in Horrible BossesHORRIBLE BOSSES

It’s kind of a shame that the Farrelly brothers’ Three Stooges movie is currently in the process of filming. Is it too late for the directors to re-cast it with Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day in the leads?

Granted, the actors might find the gig redundant, considering that they’re basically playing (somewhat) brainier versions of Moe, Larry, and Curly in director Steve Gordon’s Horrible Bosses. But it’s hard to imagine that the Farrellys’ titular trio will improve on Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day, whose motor-mouthed riffing and knockabout brio help turn a fairly clever revenge comedy into one that borders on the inspired. These polished performers continually smack each other with fists and open palms, and slap each other with insults, and are still nimble enough to tickle each other – and us.

Taking its cue from Strangers on a Train, the referenced Hitchcock film that Day’s adorable dufus remembers as “that one with Danny DeVito,” Horrible Bosses finds its hapless heroes planning to off one another’s employers, played by Kevin Spacey (Bateman’s pointlessly sadistic boss), Colin Farrell (Sudeikis’ strutting cokehead boss), and Jennifer Aniston (Day’s sexually really inappropriate boss). Complications ensue. And that’s as much plot as you need, though hardly as much as Gordon’s movie provides. With its screenplay by Michael Markowitz, Jonathan Goldstein, and John Francis Daley (the former Freaks & Geeks co-star who appears in a minor role here), the movie’s narrative frequently goes off in directions you don’t anticipate; one unexpected shooting even packs some of the punch of Spacey’s demise in L.A. Confidential. And while the repercussions to certain comic gambits (including one involving Bateman, Day, and Farrell’s cocaine stash) are unfortunately ignored, the writers do demonstrate a true gift for absurdity. I don’t know whose idea it was to have Jamie Foxx’s “murder consultant” with the unprintable first name guiltily confess to serving 10 years in prison for pirating the Ethan Hawke drama Snow Falling on Cedars, but I want to buy that guy a beer.

Aside from Farrell’s game turn as a brashly repellent turd with a hideous comb-over, there’s more surprise in Horrible Bosses’ storyline than there is in its casting; the three leads and Spacey play the character types they generally play, and Aniston basically offers a more aggressive take on the aging party girl she portrayed on 30 Rock. But she and Spacey are certainly skillful, and when the chemistry between Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day is as crackling as it is here, why would anyone want them to stretch beyond their comedic comfort zones? Gordon stages the film’s slapstick with alacrity and wit – he’s especially good with the repeat appearances of a vexing cat – and doesn’t let the script do all his work for him; he actually proves quite expert in illustrating the leads’ stupidity in visual terms. (These dolts can’t pull their cars out of a parking lot without almost ramming into each other. Twice.) But the combination of Bateman’s sardonic incredulity, Sudeikis’ friendly denseness, and Day’s apoplectic anxiety – never funnier than when realizing the full extent of Aniston’s lunacy – is what routinely makes Horrible Bosses sail. Ordinarily, a shot of three men sitting next to one another in a restaurant booth would be considered pretty standard stuff. Here, the image seems like the zenith in wit.

 

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in Larry CrowneLARRY CROWNE

This might be an off-putting question, but is anyone else dying to see Tom Hanks start playing psychopathic killers or serial rapists or child molesters or something? Because after Larry Crowne, which Hanks stars in, co-wrote (with Nia Vardalos), and directed, I don’t know how much more of this winsome nice-guy shtick I can take. I have no reason to doubt that the man is as genial and kind as he appears in print interviews and on talk shows and awards ceremonies. But with his calculated “look how unthreatening I am!” cutesiness, I wanted to throttle Hanks all throughout this sappy romantic comedy, and give him an extra kick in the ass for taking a very real problem – the steady downsizing of the American workforce – and ensuring that not one scene in the film plays as remotely believable.

This is a world in which leather-clad scooter enthusiasts snap their fingers in unison like chorus kids in West Side Story, and community college is an endless episode of Welcome Back, Kotter (one student even mimics Horshack’s “Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!” routine), and one of Larry’s classmates (the attractive but irritating Gugu Mbatha-Raw) gives the man a stylin’ makeover and re-christens him “Lance Corona”... the movie is toxically whimsical. A mostly sour, unpleasant Julia Roberts – whose angry lush falls in love with Larry for no reason other than they’re the film’s leads – saves a couple moments with her agreeably sloshy readings, and Pam Grier and That ’70s Show’s Wilmer Valderrama come close to suggesting actual human beings. But with Cedric the Endertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Bryan Cranston, Rita Wilson, and the bafflingly eccentric George Takei not allowed even one dimension each, and not one honest emotion expressed over the course of 100 minutes, Larry Crowne is an insufferable waste of talent and time. It should be said, though, that the audience I saw the film with seemed to have a ball, cackling at all the worst jokes, and offering vocalized support when Grier told Roberts that the problem with students today was that “Facebook and Twitter killed whatever attention span they had.” I might’ve vocalized my support, too, but was too busy trying to determine if “I feel like throwing both Larry Crowne and his piece-of-crap movie through a plate-glass window” was more than 140 characters.

 

Kevin James and Leslie Bibb in ZookeeperZOOKEEPER

Last week, a couple friends and I were discussing the Kevin James comedy Zookeeper – in which James does a Doolittle and talks to the animals – and one of them asked exactly what the point was in having all the critters’ dialogue delivered by famous actors. Wouldn’t the movie have worked just as well (or not), and cost a hell of a lot less, without the contributions of Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Maya Rudolph, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Don Rickles, and co-producer Adam Sandler? Well, of course it would. But without this particular vocal assemblage on board, the movie would only be terminally bland and actively unfunny, as opposed to painfully obnoxious and excruciatingly unfunny.

In truth, it’s easy enough to block much of Zookeeper from memory. With James trying, with the help of his gabby zoo pals, to win back his former girlfriend (Leslie Bibb – ha!) while ignoring the pining looks thrown at him by a charming co-worker (Rosario Dawson – ha ha!), director Frank Coraci’s family farce is poorly staged and badly lit and wholly unamusing in the way of most Happy Madison productions. (And James, on-screen, may as well start wearing a sandwich board reading, “No good shall come from this.”) Yet it’s certainly no worse than most of the Sandler company’s outings ... until those animals start yakking, and then it’s duck-and-cover time. God knows the film’s visuals, with the animals’ CGI-enhanced mouths distractingly out of sync with the dialogue, are awful enough. But once Sandler and Rudolph and Favreau start nattering away, with their broadly exaggerated “comic” accents that could shatter glass, Zookeeper becomes an experience you don’t want to witness or listen to. (The incomprehensibly ubiquitous Ken Jeong shows up here, and even he's preferable to the off-screen talent.) If your children absolutely insist on your taking them, be sure to order an extra-large popcorn. I promise you, you’re gonna want something to shove in your ears.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter at Twitter.com/MikeSchulzNow.


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