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I don’t know if Kevin Spacey ever simultaneously frightens and delights an audience the way he does when playing a sadistic Boss from Hell, a man forever finding novel and exquisite ways to humiliate the poor sap in his employ. If you’re a fan of black comedy, you should totally check this movie out: it’s called Swimming with Sharks, and it came out in 1994.

Or, if you want to see Spacey play a toothless, blunt-instrument version of the same character, you can go see Horrible Bosses, opening today in theaters everywhere.

Oh, and remember the comedic revelation that was Jason Bateman in the opening episode of Arrested Development? The delicious buildup to the scene where he’s expecting to be promoted? The expert double-take when he finds out he’s been passed over? The slow burn that follows, the impotent tantrum – note-perfect, all of it.

Yeah, you can see a heartless and ham-fisted version of that same scene in Horrible Bosses.

Wait, wait – remember The Three Stooges? The zany rapport, the acid quips, the ever-present threat of mayhem? That's here too, smoothed out, prettified, and gussied up with movie references by the trio of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day. They play three regular Joes employed by, respectively, a “Total F--king Asshole” (Spacey), a “Dipshit Cokehead Son” (Colin Farrell with a combover), and an “Evil Crazy Bitch” (Jennifer Aniston). (These titles are helpfully presented in big white letters that fill the screen, just to drive the point home.) Our heroes are funny, sure, but their humor rarely rises above the level that any trio of reasonably clever guys might achieve on a good Guys Night Out. In some ways, they’re closer to the trio of Billy Cyrstal, Bruno Kirby, and Daniel Stern in City Slickers than they are to Larry, Curly, and Moe. (Day even echoes Kirby’s voice and manner.) The comedy is amiable, which doesn’t quite cut it when you’re clearly chasing the hard-R edge of The Hangover.

Among the villains, only Aniston manages any real menace, playing a foul-mouthed, sexually aggressive dentist looking to score with her assistant Day before he ties the knot with his fiancée. (There are also some funny bits surrounding Day’s distress when his buddies suggest that it’s not such a bad thing to be lusted after by a hot mama.) Day is a man in love, and her attempt to undermine that love is genuinely alarming – much more so than her near-constant stream of dirty talk. (Horrible Bosses does love its f-bombs, milking references to a character named Motherf--ker Jones for far more than they're worth.)

As for the story, it’s slim enough to allow for plenty of padding in its 100-minute runtime. Desperate to get out from under, our boys hit upon a plan to kill each other's bosses. But come on, now – these are nice boys. The story wants us to like them, root for them, rejoice in their victory. How are they supposed to kill anybody? You want a good comedy about murder? Check out Kind Hearts & Coronets.

One star.

Bonus Gallery: City Slickers/Horrible Bosses, side by side.

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