5 Rock Songs That Slyly Reference 5 Other Rock Songs

Before they were rock stars, they were fans:  impressionable kids who scoured the racks at their local record shops looking for something, a single or an album that would change their lives.  Once they found it, they took it home and played it to death while obsessing over every detail of the packaging until it was all committed to memory.  Then they would return to find something new and repeat the process all over again.

Even after they started their own bands and achieved their own level of success, they never stopped being fans.  From time to time, they even recorded their own versions of their childhood favourites with varying results.

But sometimes the best way to pay tribute to a classic song is to be subtle.  Instead of doing a full throttle remake, why not just make a quick passing reference in one of your originals?  Like a direct lyric lift or a sample.

These five bands did just that:

1. Rush honours Simon & Garfunkel in The Spirit Of Radio (1980)

Drummer Neil Peart was a fan of CFNY, the tiny FM alternative rock station that would introduce the likes of Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, U2 and countless other cutting edge acts to Toronto-area listeners beginning in 1978 while also playing the latest from Neil Young and The Who, two revered influences on the burgeoning movement.

As a tribute to the station, Peart wrote the lyrics to The Spirit Of Radio, one of CFNY’s early ad slogans, which became one of the key singles from the 1980 album, Permanent Waves.

In the final reggae section of the song, singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee sings:

“For the words of the profits are written on the studio walls/Concert hall”

That’s a sly reference to this lyric from Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sounds Of Silence:

“And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls/And tenement halls”

Peart was mocking the corroding influence of the commercial music business on individual creativity.

Ironically, The Spirit Of Radio would only receive sporadic airplay on CFNY, much to Rush’s disappointment.  It would be spun far more often on local competing classic rock stations.  In fact, it still is.  It wasn’t until Catherine Wheel was commissioned by the station to do a cover for the Spirit Of The Edge Vol. 2 compilation in 1996 that the song, albeit in this remade form, was finally put in high rotation.

2. Bush references David Bowie in Everything Zen (1994)

Ultimately derided as Nirvana clones (they were really trying to sound like The Pixies), this English foursome couldn’t produce enough modern rock hits to ever win over their increasingly unimpressed critics.

Their first album, Sixteen Stone, quietly debuted just before Christmas in late 1994 and would go on to spawn five singles which flooded alt-rock stations for the next two years.  (The last one, Machinehead, continues to be a jock anthem at numerous sporting events today, most notably hockey.)

Of all the Sixteen Stone hits, none was better than their debut offering, Everything Zen.  At the start of the second verse, singer Gavin Rossdale sings:

“Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Dave’s on sale again”

After the massive UK success of his fifth album, The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars in 1972, David Bowie’s record company RCA decided to release a single from his previous LP, Hunky Dory, in order to cash in on his sudden fame the following year.

Smart move.  Life On Mars? went on to become a Top 5 smash despite being two years old.  (Strangely, it was never released as a single in North America.)  At the start of the second verse, Bowie sings:

“It’s on America’s tortured brow/Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow/Now the workers have struck for fame/Cause Lennon’s on sale again”

Bowie was referencing future close pal John Lennon who would release the Imagine album in 1971.  (Four years later, they would collaborate on Bowie’s first US number one smash, Fame, which gives that portion of the lyric unintentional prescience.)  In turn, Rossdale was giving a tip of the hat to Bowie who actually didn’t release any new CDs in 1994.  Presumably, the Bush frontman is referring to his 1993 solo comeback, Black Tie White Noise.

Interestingly enough, Bowie himself referenced another song in Life On Mars?  While the female protagonist is watching the fictional, unnamed film in the chorus, he sings “look at those cavemen go”.  As noted by Wikipedia, that’s a direct reference to a 1960 song called Alley Oop by a forgotten band called The Hollywood Argyles.  (“Look at that caveman go!“)

3. The Tea Party pays homage to Joy Division in Fire In The Head (1995)

Another band who knows a thing or two about having their egos bruised by the critics is this Windsor, Ontario trio.  Often dismissed as “Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin”, which is only partially correct (the band has freely admitted deriving inspiration from the English metal pioneers), The Tea Party were actually more influenced by Joy Division.

Case in point:  the 1995 single Fire In The Head from their third album, The Edges Of Twilight.  At the end of every verse, deep-voiced frontman Jeff Martin croons with his higher-voiced self:

“This is the way/Step inside”

That just happens to be the chorus for Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition, the opening track from their second album, Closer.  (Atrocity Exhibition was also the name of an experimental J.G. Ballard novel.)

Tired of comparisons to The Doors, The Tea Party named their fourth album Transmission (also the name of an early non-album Joy Division single) and added keyboards to their already unique sound.  By the end of the decade, they were one of the most successful bands in Canada, half-accurate critical descriptions be damned.

4. Garbage quietly samples R.E.M. for Stupid Girl (1995)

The fourth single from the first Garbage album was their Top 40 breakthrough.  The drum hook that plays throughout the track is from The Clash’s Train In Vain which, curiously enough, was their first Top 40 achievement.

But there’s another unoriginal drum part not credited in the liner notes that pops up during several instrumental breaks.  If you listen closely, you’ll notice a quick rat-a-tat-tat sample from R.E.M.’s Orange Crush.

So, why wasn’t this noted?  A number of quick web searches didn’t provide any answers.  (My guess:  a secret financial deal was reached without the need for credit which, as Alan Cross has noted, is pretty standard for the industry.)  Maybe when the 20th Anniversary edition of Garbage, the band’s self-titled debut, comes out later this year, we’ll get the full scoop.

5. The Killers tip their hat to David Bowie in Mr. Brightside (2004)

This one I just noticed recently after buying the Hunky Dory CD.

In the last verse of Queen Bitch, his glammy tribute to Lou Reed, Bowie sings about being isolated, cold and envious in his hotel room.  At one point, while continuing to observe his male companion “down on the street”, he reports:

“So I throw both his bags down the hall/And I’m phoning a cab/Cause my stomach feels small”

In Mr. Brightside, frontman Brandon Flowers is tormented in the aftermath of an ended affair.  In the second half of the song’s only verse where he punishes himself by dreaming about his ex getting involved with another man, he sings:

“Now I’m falling asleep/And she’s calling a cab/While he’s having a smoke/And she’s taking a drag/Now they’re going to bed/And my stomach is sick”

Earlier, near the end of the first verse of Queen Bitch, Bowie sings:

“I just can’t see her letting him go.”

In Mr. Brightside, in the midst of his imaginary nightmare, Flowers observes:

“But she’s touching his chest now/he takes off her dress now/letting me go”

These similiarites between the two sets of lyrics (both songs deal with jealous lovers) are not a coincidence.  Flowers has openly declared his admiration for Bowie in the press for years.  In fact, in 2010, he said his music changed his lifeIn a 2013 interview with Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that the bassline for All The Things That I’ve Done was stolen from Slow Burn, an underrated Bowie single from 2002’s Heathen.  In that same interview, he revealed that as The Killers were starting to generate material, he was very much into 70s glam rock, Lou Reed’s Transformers & Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in particular.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 26, 2015
10:18 p.m.

CORRECTION:  I can’t believe I screwed this up.  The Tea Party lyric stolen from Joy Division is “This is the way/step inside” not “aside”.  My apologies for this stupid mistake.  The text has finally been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 8, 2017
4:17 a.m.

Published in: on July 26, 2015 at 10:18 pm  Comments (1)  

Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley & The WWE’s Race Problem

Hulk Hogan hates Black people.  How do we all know this?  His comments were caught on tape.

And not just any tape.  His infamous sex tape.

A few years ago, Gawker broke the story that Hogan was secretly recorded having sex with Heather Clem, the then-wife of his then-friend radio jock Bubba The Love Sponge.  They even posted a brief snippet of the encounter with their report.  An infuriated Hogan filed lawsuits against both the website and Bubba, only the latter of which has been settled.

Ever since, Hogan has been trying to prevent the rest of the video from being shown publicly.  Now we know why.

The National Enquirer and Radar Online recently reported that in 2006, the WWE legend didn’t approve of his daughter Brooke dating a Black man.  Upon getting a head’s up about the coming scandal, the WWE immediately erased its most important star from its website and its imaginary Hall of Fame.  He will no longer appear on the reality competition series, Tough Enough.  You can’t buy any of his official merchandise any more.  He will likely not be doing any more live events or appearing on their weekly TV programs.  Who knows if this will extend to the WWE Network and any upcoming WWE home video releases.

I’ve been a fan of Hogan’s wrestling career for 30 years.  I saw him wrestle live numerous times in my local arena in the 80s.  I watched him bodyslam Andre The Giant in the main event of WrestleMania 3 live on closed circuit TV in that same arena.  I used to have a Hogan T-shirt, his early action figures, a black & white banner, the two Wrestling Albums and dozens of magazines with him on the cover.  I still have the official No Holds Barred magazine, a bookmark, some buttons and old stickers on one of my dressers.  I’ve seen many of his VHS and DVD releases.

But I can’t support him any longer.  I’m not a Hulkamaniac any more.  Hulk Hogan’s views of Black people disgust me.  They are repugnant and completely based on ignorance.  There is absolutely no justification for them whatsoever.  He doesn’t deserve any sympathy for his cruel views.  None.

Which brings me to his bogus apology.  Trying vainly to weasel his way out of this mess, Hogan released this public statement to People Magazine.  Rather than admit that he has a huge problem, he offers the old “this isn’t how I really feel” bullshit.  That did wonders for Michael Richards nine years ago, didn’t it?

Read those words in that tape transcript.  Those are his beliefs.  Make no mistake about it.  Thanks to Hogan Knows Best, the reality show he made with his dysfunctional family, we know firsthand how controlling he is of his daughter Brooke.  It became a running joke throughout the series.  She couldn’t even go on dates without him constantly spying on her.

But this is worse, much worse.  It’s deplorable and inexcusable.

Tell that to Mick Foley, one of a number of fellow wrestlers supporting him.  Instead of getting angry with Hogan on Twitter, he wrote this.

“I’m pulling for you, brother!”  What the fuck is that?

It doesn’t end there.  Foley tweeted this and a link to this.

Give me a fucking break.  Hulk Hogan didn’t make “a very bad mistake” that he deserves “forgiveness” for.  He’s a racist who deserves every criticism he receives.  I want nothing to do with him.

By the way, this isn’t the first time Foley has shown questionable judgment regarding racist public figures.

Around this time last year, Anthony Cumia, the then-half of notorious radio jocks Opie & Anthony, went on a despicable Twitter rant about supposedly being beaten up by a Black woman while taking photos in New York City.  (His story was never verified.)  Long a controversial figure known for making sexist and racist remarks in the guise of “comedy”, the incident ended his gig with Sirius XM and severed his partnership with longtime colleague Opie Hughes.

What was Mick Foley’s initial reaction to the news?  He thanked Anthony for all the times he appeared on the O&A show.

It was only after fans (including myself) complained about his lack of outrage that he even bothered to criticize Anthony’s now deleted rant on his official Facebook page in the first place.  Unfortunately, he also declared him a “comedic genious [sic]” in the same posting.

A year later, Foley hasn’t learned his lesson, so I’m done with him, too.

As for the WWE, no one should be throwing out hosannas for them, either.  Under longtime owner Vince McMahon Jr., the company has a terrible history with raceRolling Stone recently highlighted just 5 examples in a recent posting that you can still see on home video and on the WWE Network, not to mention YouTube.  The Wrestling Observer website has an ongoing retro recap series on the old Tuesday Night Titans talk show where they’ve often made note of how poorly Black wrestlers were treated by their White counterparts in the 80s.

And that’s just scratching the surface.  We could also talk about demeaning gimmicks (think The Boogeyman, The Godfather, Kamala The Ugandan Headhunter, Virgil, Papa Shango or Saba Simba (AKA Tony Atlas)), awful promos (Paul Orndorff calling Atlas a “souped up spider monkey” and “a big gorilla” on TNT), off-camera incidents (a drunken Michael Hayes saying he’s a better “nigger” than Henry after WrestleMania 24) and lack of Black world champions (The Rock, now just a part-timer, was the last one two & a half years ago and he only defended the WWE title twice on pay-per-view).  Furthermore, don’t get me started on the use of the Confederate Flag by the likes of “babyfaces” Dick Slater (during his thankfully short-lived Rebel gimmick) and The Fabulous Freebirds (which included Hayes as a member).

Even today, the WWE continues to think little of its Black talent.  Before they became heels, The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E & Xavier Woods) were packaged as inspirational preachers which the audience instantly rejected.  R-Truth, so effective as a jealous, paranoid, insecure villain in 2011, is back to doing his terrible babyface rapper gimmick.

Thankfully, there have been exceptions past and present.  Consider former World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry who, despite suffering indignity after indignity on and off-screen, was never better than as an angry, ambitious bully between 2011 and 2013.  Or former InterContinental Champion Shelton Benjamin, the incredibly agile daredevil who stole the show in the first four Money In The Bank ladder matches at WrestleMania 21, 22, 23 & 24 during his run in the company.  And we can’t forget old school grapplers like Bobo Brazil and Sweet Daddy Siki.

Yes, The Prime Time Players (Titus O’Neil and pioneering gay performer Darren Young) are the current tag team champions but are their characters memorable and special?  Catchphrases and silly dancing aside, not really, which is a shame because they’re good workers and work well as a team.  (They’re pals in real-life which helps the chemistry.)

So, let’s be clear.  The WWE is merely covering its ass here by firing Hogan.  (His lawyer says he quit but who’s buying that one?)  Its recent public statement to the contrary, it does not have a great track record on race.  (Women aren’t treated much better but that’s a whole different rant.)  Yes, it has a lot more talented Black performers on its main roster today.  But are any of them getting pushed like John Cena and Randy Orton?

Back to Hogan.  Does anyone truly believe this distancing act the WWE is doing right now will be permanent?  Please.  Despite being retired and into his early 60s, Hogan is still a bonafide moneymaker for professional wrestling generally and Vince McMahon Jr. specifically.  When the Gawker lawsuit is finally resolved either by settlement or dismissal (most likely the latter; he doesn’t have much of a case) (MARCH 19, 2016 UPDATE:  Apparently, the jury disagreed.  Will Gawker’s appeal be more successful?  We shall see.) and after Hogan’s despicable comments inevitably fade completely from the media’s headlines and the public consciousness, the WWE will come calling again and all will be forgiven.

Don’t believe me?  Consider the example of Dog The Bounty Hunter (AKA Duane Chapman).  During the 4th season of his own hit reality show on A&E, he left a voicemail message for his son which revealed he didn’t approve of interracial romances, either.  A&E temporarily pulled his show off the air.  Then, much to my surprise, it came back for four more seasons before it was cancelled for good in 2012, five years after that infamous voicemail was reported by, you guessed it, the National Enquirer.

But it wasn’t the end of Dog’s TV career.  Since 2013, he’s been starring with his wife in a new CMT show called Dog & Beth: On The Hunt.  (You can see it in Canada on OLN.)  It’s pretty much the same as the A&E program.  Back in 2009, Dog even wrote a book, his second, called Where Mercy Is Shown, Mercy Is Given which apparently addresses his racist comments.

If a mullet-haired bigoted bounty hunter can continue to thrive with his professional life, Hulk Hogan has nothing to worry about.  (Neither does Michael Hayes who was only suspended for insulting Mark Henry.) (MARCH 19, 2016 UPDATE:  The Fabulous Freebirds will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before WrestleMania 32.) Expect the WWE to re-embrace him sooner than later.  And expect them to continue to deny it has a race problem.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 25, 2015
8:39 p.m.

Published in: on July 25, 2015 at 8:39 pm  Comments (2)  

12 David Bowie Rarities That Have Never Been Released On CD

Last month, David Bowie’s official website announced the upcoming release of Five Years, the first in a series of career-spanning, retrospective box sets.  The most notable inclusion:  the original version of Holy Holy, a rare 1970 A-Side that has never been issued on CD before.  That’s right.  It has taken 45 years for this to finally happen.

This got me thinking recently of other Bowie rarities that for whatever reason have also been denied a proper CD release.  True, some of the following songs can be legally downloaded online but for old school fans, it’s always preferable to own the best quality physical copies of their favourite music.

At any event, here are the only remaining officially released recordings in the Bowie catalogue that can’t be purchased on CD:

1 & 2. Space Oddity (1969 US Single Edit & 1973 Longer US Single Edit)

The full version of Bowie’s first major hit runs five minutes and fifteen seconds.  But when it was first released in the United States, it was severely cut down to just a little under three and a half minutes.  (No wonder it flopped.)  A second US single release restored most of the original mix minus twelve seconds.

In 2009, in honour of the song’s 40th Anniversary, Bowie released a special EP that featured all the different single versions of the song plus individual elements of the original on separate tracks so fans could make their own mixes.  Unfortunately, this was an online-only release.

The Five Years box set will include the rare four and a half minute UK single edit but not any of the US edits.

3. The Man In The Middle (1971 Arnold Corns B-Side)

While making the Ziggy Stardust album, Bowie slyly released three songs under the name Arnold Corns (a reference to his favourite Pink Floyd song, Arnold Layne).  Two of the tracks, Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself, would be reworked and re-recorded for Ziggy.  (The originals can be heard on the 1990 Rykodisc version of The Man Who Sold The World and the 2002 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy.)  The third, The Man In The Middle, would only be issued as the B-Side to Yourself.  It has not been released in any other form.

4. John, I’m Only Dancing (Again) (1979 7″ Single Edit A-Side)

Two years after recording three versions of John, I’m Only Dancing (two of which would be issued as stand-alone singles in 1972, the third as a bonus cut on the 1990 Rykodisc and 2002 30th Anniversary editions of Ziggy Stardust), Bowie decided to do a funked-up disco remake entitled John, I’m Only Dancing (Again).  Rejected for Young Americans, it sat in the vaults for five years before finally getting a proper single release in 1979.

The full seven-minute 12″ version would eventually appear on CD on The Best Of David Bowie 1974-1979 and the 2007 reissue of Young Americans.  But the edited three and a half minute 7″ version remains only available on vinyl.

5, 6 & 7. Remembering Marie A, Ballad Of The Adventurers & The Dirty Song (from 1982 Baal EP)

In 1982, Bowie starred in the BBC TV adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, a play originally written during the First World War.  He sang five songs for the production which were later collected for the Baal EP, his final release for RCA.  In 2003, The Drowned Girl & Baal’s Hymn made their CD debuts on the expanded version of the Sound + Vision box set.  Drowned Girl would also pop up on disc three of The Platinum Collection in 2005 which was given a separate release as The Best Of David Bowie 1980-1987 in 2007.

But the other three tracks from the EP – Remembering Marie A, Ballad Of The Adventurers & The Dirty Song – have never been put on CD.  However, the full EP has been available as a digital download since 2007.

8, 9 & 10. Life On Mars?, Wake Up & Five Years (from the 2005 Live At Fashion Rocks EP with The Arcade Fire)

On September 8, 2005, David Bowie & The Arcade Fire performed live at the Fashion Rocks event in New York City.  The three songs they performed that evening (Bowie’s Life On Mars? from Hunky Dory and Five Years from Ziggy plus Arcade Fire’s Wake Up from Funeral) were later issued that same year on the Live At Fashion Rocks EP (or Live EP as it says on the digital cover) as an iTunes exclusive.  Unfortunately, they have all since been removed from the site.

11. Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) (2014 Single Edit)

The obligatory new song recorded for last year’s Nothing Has Changed compilation features the full seven-minute version.  The four-minute single edit can only be downloaded or purchased on vinyl.

12. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore (2014 B-Side)

The B-Side to Sue is only available with both versions of the A-Side as a three-song digital download and on 10″ vinyl.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 5, 2015
6:20 p.m.

UPDATE:  The 7″ version of John I’m Only Dancing (Again) finally debuted on CD in 2016 when it was included in Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976), the follow-up box set to Five Years.  It’s the last song on Re:Call 2, the bonus disc of single edits, which also includes the rare American A-Side version of Fame.

Bowie’s next legacy box set, A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982), which will be out September 29, will feature the entire Baal EP on CD for the very first time.  Also, according to Amazon’s description, it will include two other rarities I missed.  I didn’t realize the Australian single mix of Breaking Glass (from Low) and the extended version of Beauty & The Beast (from “Heroes”) had never been issued on CD before.  All of these hard-to-find tracks will be part of the Re:Call 3 bonus disc included in the collection.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 20, 2017
4:53 p.m.

Published in: on July 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Horrible Bosses

There’s a second season episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza reaches his breaking point.  After his boss refuses to let the real estate agent use his private bathroom George throws a temper tantrum and quits.

Bad idea.

He realizes belatedly that he doesn’t have a Plan B.  He can’t immediately find a replacement gig.  So he humbly returns to work a few days later acting as though his big freakout never happened.

Another bad idea.

Then, with the assistance of pal Elaine Benes, George slips a Mickey in his boss’s drink at a company function.

Strike three.

I thought about that particular story while watching Horrible Bosses, an extraordinarily pitiful black comedy released in the summer of 2011.  In the film, three old high school friends (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis) frequently bemoan their miserable experiences at work.  I had my own miserable experience watching this tasteless trash.

Investment broker Bateman has been willingly taking shit for eight years from Kevin Spacey naively thinking it will somehow lead to a major promotion.  (Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t.)  Basically recycling the psychotic character he played in Swimming With Sharks, Spacey is a sadistic stickler.  He’s only happy when he’s cruel.  (He also thinks his wife is having multiple affairs.  He’s not completely off-base on this point, as it turns out.)  Sometimes I wondered if he realized he was acting in a comedy since Spacey’s performance fails to generate a single laugh (not counting one amusing facial expression in the post-credit outtakes).

Despite being the first one in the office every morning and the last one to leave at the end of the day, Bateman can’t do anything to please him.  Showing up two minutes late is cause for a private scolding.  Tricking him into downing a whole glass of old scotch in his office well before happy hour gives him an excuse to call him a drunk in front of his co-workers.  And he can’t have fun on the weekend because Spacey drowns him in extra work.

Meanwhile, the annoying Charlie Day is an engaged dental assistant who has to constantly fight off the sexual advances of an overly lascivious Jennifer Aniston.  (Does she know Whatley from Seinfeld?  They would definitely hit it off.)  Complicating his dilemma is that he’s a registered sex offender who really needs this job.  (He got caught peeing outside in a children’s playground after drinking too much in a nearby bar when no one was around.)   And Aniston is threatening to ruin his relationship if he keeps refusing her pornographic come-ons.  (She has compromising photos on her tablet that look far from consensual.)

At first, Jason Sudekis has a mostly ideal situation working at a responsible chemical company.  (Only in the movies, right?)  He has a competent, supportive boss in Donald Sutherland.  But after he suddenly dies of a heart attack (you can see it coming a mile away), Sutherland’s idiotic, masseuse-lovin’, coke-addicted son (a terribly miscast Colin Farrell with a paunch and bad combover) takes over and his nightmare begins.  Those poor Bolivians.

During one of their many communal commiserations, Day wonders why Sudekis and Bateman don’t just quit.  Then, an old high school pal who hasn’t been the same since he lost his job with Lehman Brothers two years ago shows up wishing he could kill his former bosses for ruining his life.  (He’s now reduced to prostituting himself to anyone who will pay for “handies”.  To be fair, his rates are reasonable.)  After he gets kicked out of the bar, the three amigos appear to resign themselves to remaining unhappily employed.

But after Sudekis “hypothetically” suggests they off their superiors, shortly thereafter, a real agreement is reached.  Day locates what he thinks is an online hitman they plan to meet in a hotel room.  Unfortunately, “wet works” isn’t code for killing people.  It’s a gay kink involving urine.  That’s typical of the level of comedy we’re dealing with here.

Desperate for someone to help them out they’re approached by misleading ex-con Jamie Foxx outside a bar in a tough neighbourhood.  But he wants 5 G’s before making a commitment.  However, after he gets the money, he suddenly decides to just be a “murder consultant”.  He suggests they make the killings look like accidents.  (Good one, genius.)  Plus, in order to avoid suspicion, rather than having Bateman kill Spacey, Day kill Aniston and Sudekis kill Farrell, they should switch things up.  As a result, the lads decide that Bateman will take out Farrell, Day will eliminate Spacey and Sudekis will assassinate Aniston instead.

Foxx also advises pre-murder stakeouts so they can study their bosses’ daily routines in order to discover previously undetected vulnerabilities.  But they take it further by breaking and entering.  They sneak into Farrell’s bachelor pad through an open garage door one night where they learn that he collects a lot of useless crap and foolishly leaves his stash of cocaine lying around.  Before they leave, Sudekis steals Farrell’s cell phone and leaves his, um, scent on some of his personal hygiene products.

Because Day is a total screw-up (he’s the one who unwittingly contacts the professional urinator online and foolishly drops Farrell’s box of coke on his carpet), he’s designated the outside lookout while the two Jasons sneak into Spacey’s lavish home.  A weird shrine to his cat (who keeps popping up unexpectedly freaking out the duo), this new arrangement reaps dividends when Spacey unexpectedly returns from his nightly jog.

Pissed off by Day’s presence and for his spontaneous act of littering, Spacey’s angry confrontation goes terribly awry when he suddenly has an allergic reaction to the peanuts in Day’s snack.  Fortunately, he has an adrenaline needle on him.  To the absolute horror of the two Jasons who watch helplessly from an upstairs window, he repeatedly stabs Spacey with the needle until he finally calms down.  (Because his dopey comrades failed to show him what Spacey looks like, he has no idea who he’s helping.)  In the middle of this madness, Spacey’s wife (Modern Family’s Julie Bowen) arrives.  Considering his deep mistrust of her fidelity, not to mention his rigid personality, her relief that he isn’t dead isn’t terribly believable.

In their eagerness to escape, the two Jasons accidentally leave behind Farrell’s cell phone which sets in motion a chain of events that pretty much derails their original plans.

From the very beginning, the tone of Horrible Bosses is all wrong.  As a result, there’s almost nothing funny here.  The film’s idea of a black comedy is to mainly rely on dumb gross-out humour, including an astounding number of rape jokes, rather than make any kind of clever comic statement.  (Fearing possible jail sentences for their criminal ineptness, the two Jasons and Day openly debate who’s more “rapeable”.  Really.)

The first laugh, courtesy of Jason Bateman, doesn’t happen until about 80 minutes into the picture and even then, it’s just a quick, sarcastic one-liner.  (Day’s phone sex technique really is abysmal.)  The few remaining funny moments happen during the closing credits blooper reel.  (Jamie Foxx is funnier when he screws up.)  A stunning disappointment considering the high profile names here.

I was particularly offended by the Aniston storyline.  Imagine if she was the harassed assistant and Day was the predatory dentist.  Would anyone be laughing then?  Besides, Seinfeld did a somewhat similar storyline with Whatley that was far funnier and less cringy.  (Come to think of it, there are a couple of other things that feel cribbed from that show:  Foxx’s criminal past, the fat woman mistaken for being pregnant.)  Like Spacey and Farrell, I didn’t laugh at anything she says or does.

The lack of intelligence is glaringly apparent at almost every possible turn.  At one point, our dimwitted heroes don’t even realize they’ve left behind Farrell’s cell phone.  (Once it disappears, it’s never mentioned again.)  It never occurs to them that that might be the reason the overly suspicious Spacey pays him an unexpected visit.  (Spacey literally has it in his hand and plays the Carl Douglas ringtone to Farrell that a shocked Bateman doesn’t pick up on even though he has an excellent view from his car.)  And why would they decide to spy on their bosses’ homes from the comfort of their own vehicles?  License plates can be traced, dummies.

I get it.  They’re supposed to be stupid.  But they’re not funny stupid.  Nor are they worth rooting for.  The shallow, womanizing, anti-fat, homophobic Sudekis is charmless and ignorant.  Bateman’s passive/aggressive act isn’t amusing.  And the feminized Day (whose childhood dream was to be married and who openly weeps while watching The Notebook) is just plain irritating.  Sometimes I wondered if he was trying to channel The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi when he raises his voice which he does way too often.

How bad is this movie?  Even a cameo from Bob Newhart can’t generate a laugh.  And he’s usually comedy gold.  (His frequent guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory prove he hasn’t lost his timing at this late stage of his long career.)

Roger Ebert was fond of saying, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about it.”  Could Horrible Bosses have worked with a sharper, darker, more incisive screenplay?  Unless some brave soul decides to remake it down the road, we’ll never know.  On second thought, never mind.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 4, 2015
3:57 p.m.

Published in: on July 4, 2015 at 3:57 pm  Comments (2)