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“Horrible Bosses,” reviewed

“Horrible Bosses,” reviewed (photo)

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I’m getting a little sick of reading (and saying and writing) the phrase “the plot is just a clothesline to hang the gags on” in reviews of Hollywood comedies. Yes, laughs are the most important thing in a comedy, but if laughs are the only thing in a comedy, the film might be funny, but that’s all it will ever be. Seth Gordon‘s “Horrible Bosses” represents a welcome return to plot-based comedy. This is not a movie in which the plot is just a clothesline to hang gags on. There’s an honest-to-God story here, and the more twists and turns it takes the better and funnier “Horrible Bosses” gets.

That story is simple but the execution could be tricky. Three working stiffs — corporate drone Nick (Jason Bateman), dental hygienist Dale (Charlie Day), and manager of a small chemical company Kurt (Jason Sudekis) — realize over one of their weekly commiseration sessions at the local bar, that their lives are perfect in every way except for one: their horrible bosses. Dave (Kevin Spacey) tricks Nick into getting drunk on the job, then steals his promotion. Julia (Jennifer Aniston) is so intent on sleeping with Dale that she threatens to tell his fiance they have unless he actually does. And Bobby (Colin Farrell) is a greedy cokehead who inherits the business from his father. He forces Kurt to do his dirty work for him (first order of business: “trim the fat,” i.e. “fire the fat people”) and threatens to run the company into the ground. The trio resolve to murder their bosses, only jokingly and drunkenly at first, but more seriously after things get even worse at work. Why don’t they just quit their jobs, you ask? In this economy? The way things are these days, you’ve got to hold onto your career like grim death, even if that means sending someone else off to theirs.

Murderous fantasies are one thing, but actually plotting (and then actually executing) a hit isn’t necessarily a comedy slam dunk. To make it funny, you’ve got to make the bosses pure, unadulterated evil, and the ones in “Horrible Bosses” definitely are. Farrell, sporting a awe-inspiring combover, is a being of pure sleaze and greed. Aniston, playing against type with a twinkle in her eye, is a funnily filthy seductress. And Kevin Spacey, who’s already in the Bad Movie Boss Hall of Fame for his role in the sadly forgotten “Swimming With Sharks” is a deliciously sinister sociopath as Dave. Nick, Dale, and Kurt make what little rationalizations they need to — since Bobby’s cost-cutting measures will mean the deaths of thousands of South Americans, murdering him would actually be a heroic gesture! — and set off on their plans.

After a lengthy and hilariously unsuccessful search for an assassin with an interest in, um, “wetwork,” they finally find a “murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx. He suggests they each perform the other’s murders so that the have no apparent motive; you know, like that movie “Strangers on a Train” (or was it “Throw Momma From the Train”)? I will not spoil anything else about Foxx’s small but unforgettable role but everything about every moment he is in — from his plan to his character’s name to his hair to the ultimate reveal of how he got into the murder consulting game — is funny. One joke in particular involving Fox’s character — you’ll know it when you hear it because it involves the unexpected placement of a very unlikely movie title — made me laugh harder than any joke in any movie I’ve seen so far this year.

I laughed a lot in general at “Horrible Bosses,” but even more than the laughter, I appreciated the way the screenplay by Michael Markowitz, Jonathan M. Goldstein, and “Freaks and Geeks” star John Francis Daley continually ratchets up the tension as these very dumb guys get into deeper and deeper trouble. Here is one film whose outcome cannot be predicted from its opening scenes (not by a long shot). Rebounding from his dreadful first fiction feature “Four Christmases,” director Seth Gordon shows the same sort of deftness with suspenseful comic narratives that made his documentary on obsessive “Donkey Kong” players, “The King of Kong,” so hilariously entertaining. He juggles a big cast and a dicey comic premise, and he navigates the fine line between dark comedy and just plain dark with real skill.

“Horrible Bosses” has some good jokes, extremely likable performances and, yes, a real and vital plot. It’s a comedy with some suspense and even some stakes. What a welcome twist. Gordon and company really killed it.

Going to see “Horrible Bosses” this weekend? We want to hear what you think of it. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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