For a movie that hinges on a murder plot, Horrible Bosses feels surprisingly lighthearted. That’s because despite the title and the marketing, the film’s draw isn’t the fucked-up wish fulfillment of giving your dirtbag superior what he deserves. Instead, its appeal lies in the easy, enjoyable chemistry of its leads — Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis – and the fun of watching them screw up royally, over and over, in increasingly zany ways. To put it another way, it’s Office Space meets Apatovian buddy comedy, minus the dark stuff and the sweet bits but with more consistent laughs as a result.

Horrible Bosses begins by setting up the parallel miseries of the central trio of friends: Nick’s (Bateman) supervisor Harken (Kevin Spacey) bullies and tricks him into pursuing an unattainable promotion; Dale (Day) works for a dentist named Julia (Jennifer Aniston) who sexually harasses him constantly; Kurt’s (Sudeikis) new boss Bobby (Colin Farrell) is a douchey, self-obsessed cokehead. There’s only so much of these assholes that any self-respecting employee can take, so as their professional lives become increasingly unbearable, the three hire “murder consultant” Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) to help off their bosses.

There are a handful of moments, particularly in the earlier scenes, that obviously call back to Office Space. Spacey in particular starts off as a wonderfully, painfully recognizable character as the ultimate evil boss, and Bateman plays off of him nicely as his character moves from simmering resentment to explosive rage. Once the story starts following the characters’ plans to kill, however, it trades relatable workplace comedy for a wacky adventure about three incompetent pals.

Not that that’s a bad thing. As I’ve mentioned, the best reason by far to watch Horrible Bosses is the main cast. As a trio of best buds, Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis have an irresistible, lived-in chemistry that’s more than the sum of its parts. You get the sense that these guys actually have known each other for ages, whether they’re finishing each other’s sentences or slapping each other silly. It’s their camraderie that makes the movie when it’s excellent, and carries it when it’s not.

So it’s a bit of a letdown that the titular antagonists are nowhere near as rich. Spacey initially makes a strong impression, but quickly becomes a one-note sociopath, while Aniston gets even fewer shades as the eternally horny Julia. But the larger tragedy is the underuse of Farrell, whose bizarre character has the most distinctive, three-dimensional personality of any individual in the film. Unfortunately, Bobby quickly fades into the background as the focus settles on the far less interesting Harken.

My biggest beef with the film, however, has to do with its too-flip treatment of male-directed sexual harassment and rape. While all of the bosses’ antics are played for laughs, Harken’s cruelty and Bobby’s insensitivity are portrayed as unquestionably awful. In contrast, it’s implied that Julia’s unwanted advances toward Dale is only a problem because Dale is such a sweet guy, not because it’s inherently disturbing for, y’know, a superior of any gender to coerce her employee into having sex with her. While it’s fun to see Aniston play against type, I would’ve preferred to see Horrible Bosses go all the way and show Julia as a really nasty character.

My complaints aside, Horrible Bosses works fairly well as a whole. Few of the jokes by screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein feel truly inspired, but much more of them land than don’t. (The tired jokes about Indian call center operators are dated at best and offensive at worst; on the other hand, a recon mission inside Bobby’s house had me giggling throughout.) Director Seth Gordon (King of Kong) does an excellent job of keeping the momentum going as the craziness escalates, and wraps everything up before the film runs out of steam.

That Horrible Bosses stays a light movie through and through may disappoint those hoping for the stranger, bleaker laughs that the twisted concept seems to suggest. While the rapport of the central characters keeps it from being completely forgettable, it won’t leave you with much of anything to think about. But the laughs are plentiful enough to keep you engaged for a couple of hours, which is enough for a summer popcorn flick. It’s tough to complain too much about the flaws when the overall product feels like exactly what the season calls for.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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