Horrible Bosses is a one-man show that other actors have been allowed, lucklessly for them, to crash. Crash they do. Like a Prospero luring uninvited guests to their doom, Kevin Spacey, in a supporting role he turns into a star turn, is the evil boss exercising smooth magic, rough justice and the gravity of some deadly planet drawing alien ships to catastrophe.
First question up: why isn’t it funnier, this tale – pre-hyped as one of the Hollywood comedies of the season – of three ill-starred friends (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis) planning crossover murders of their bosses? A will kill B’s employer; B C’s; and so on. Think of Strangers on a Train: only don’t think of it too hard, comparisons are odious. It isn’t very funny, never mind thrilling, to watch Sudeikis glare daggers at his new company director, played by a barely recognisable Colin Farrell (three-second giggle for his balding wig plus combover). And a little goes a long way with the O-level comic chemistry between dental assistant Day and his sexually harassing boss Jennifer Aniston. How often can you laugh, before you start screaming, at repeated scenes of a female orthodontist trying to have sex with, on, around or under, a gassed-unconscious patient?
There is nothing for it but to “watch this Spacey”. He swaggers on as a Mr Cool Master of the Universe, crisply horrible, supererogatorily smug, and barely even needing to move his lips as he sculpts his nastinesses. “We’ve got to trim the fat. Fire all the fat people.” Spacey does more with an eyebrow than Bateman-Day-Sudeikis can do with their combined physiognomies. He does more with a cadence than Aniston can do with a cataract of would-be comical bel canto. And he doesn’t even need a Farrell combover. He just is Hollywood’s lord of timing. He is playing Richard III on stage right now in London, I am told. Hold my hat, I’m off.
In the silly season the first casualties are film critics. They lose their hold on reality. Their intelligences drift off into hyperspace accompanied by theremin music. Colleagues who voiced praise of Beginners had to be taken aside by me, after the screening, and told gently, as I rubbed their foreheads with an eau-de-cologne-impregnated towel: “This is not a good film. It just seems good, amid all the louder rubbish around, because it is quiet, whimsical and full of politically correct thinking.”
Whimsical it remorselessly is. Ewan McGregor conducts a fey, irritating, meant-to-be-adorable romance with Mélanie Inglourious Basterds Laurent, in some fantasist’s Los Angeles where the French New Wave has belatedly tsunami’d, leaving a debris of handheld camerawork and improv’d-sounding dialogue. Christopher Plummer is McGregor’s aged dad, a late gay comer-out living with an implausibly young Ganymede (ER’s Goran Visnic). The latter tries to explain his father fixation with some fixer-upper sub-Freudian dialogue. The whole film is ghastly beyond words, while using words, unstoppably, to try to save itself. I didn’t catch Mike Mills’s first film, the praised-by-some Thumbsucker. But it has now dropped to the bottom of my desert island downloads wish-list.
The advantage of a week such as this is that we can bury all the bad news at once. Even Pixar, the fantabulous Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up), finally has – let’s come out with it – a flop.
When will American movie sequels learn? The secret to extending the charm of a successful home-raised original such as the digimation feature Cars is not, repeat not, to take the characters around the world. Sex and the City went to Dubai and died. Mission: Impossible 3 crashed in Australia. Long before either, the National Lampoon series lead-ballooned in Europe. But “Go east, young franchise” is still Hollywood’s Horace Greeleyism.
Hence Cars 2: a mishmash of intercontinental tourist clichés and international intrigue as our funky car-heroes, led by Tow Mater the towtruck and the Owen Wilson-voiced racecar Lightning McQueen, chase a global grand prix season. Picture-postcard Paris: check. Picture-postcard Italy: check. The climax takes place in and around London’s Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, with Vanessa Redgrave voicing a vehicular version of HM the Queen.
As a spin-off, the film spins off early and straight into the crowd. Writer-director John Lasseter, Cars saga creator, compounds catastrophe by adding a spy story. Michael Caine, as chief agent, voicemails in a performance of flat, jaded Caine-isms. Eddie Izzard does his doomed best as the automotive baddie, a sort of Bernie-Ecclestone-gone-Svengali.
The French thriller The Big Picture (L’Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie) also goes around the world. The story, from a Douglas Kennedy novel, offers itself as a kind of new-generation The Talented Mr Ripley. But Ripley creator Patricia Highsmith knew her Europe: she revelled with dark, caustic expertise in its un-Americanness. This movie guides crime-of-passion killer Romain Duris, fleeing family and justice, to Italy, preceded by Montenegro, spinning behind him the Ariadne thread of a plot that comes unravelled like a sweater snagged on barbed wire.
Catherine Deneuve performs the Michael Cars 2 Caine function, barely phoning in her performance as Duris’s dying work boss, a character with no discernible plot utility. Niels Arestrup, late of Le Prophète, contributes a slyly rumbustious late cameo that almost saves the day. But by then, in plot terms, it’s already dusk.
Never mind. Next week promises better. And the good thing about a silly season is that it only lasts a season.