Director Seth Gordon’s blokey middle-of-the-road comedy about three buddies united by contempt for their bosses has a premise audiences will either instantly relate to or feel damn fortunate that they don’t.

In Horrible Bosses Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) loathe their superiors. And who can blame them? There’s Kevin Spacey as a Lex Luther-esque corporate tyrant who rewards himself with promotions and pay rises and turns his office into a luxury pad, Colin O’Farrell as a coked-up brat and Jennifer Anniston as a lascivious psycho-sexual dentist.

Nick, Kurt and Dale are savvy hard-working employees who deserve recognition from the powers that be. Instead they get threats, intimidation and blackmail. So, depressed and desperate to tilt the justice scales somewhere in their favour, they decide the only way to right the wrongs of their vocational existence is to arrange to kill their bosses. As you do.

Jamie Foxx, playing a shady tattooed bar-lurker who offers sage Hitchcockian advice, suggests they exchange murders, Strangers on a Train style. That’s the turning point at which Horrible Bosses becomes a dopey black comedy that loses its commonly relatable edge and replaces it with a flight of morbid fantasy.

The story is refreshingly difficult to second-guess — it’s unconventional in the sense that it doesn’t follow formula — but then again Gordon and co. don’t trek anywhere particularly interesting or colourful. The screenplay is hampered by a make-it-up-as-you-go mentality, a sense the writers didn’t know where they wanted to go and sent it to the printers piecemeal.

The three leads do a good job providing affable and unchallenging everyday characterisations. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day will connect with audiences but their performances are too bland, too straight-laced, to carry the plot, which tries to be too clever by half and ends up too dumb by double.

Regardless, Horrible Bosses is enjoyable light weight viewing with occasional bursts of laugh-out-loud moments. The second act is a bit flat and the ending way too coincidental — the story wrapped up in a bundle of frustratingly contrived happenstance — but on its own humble terms the film does (pardon the pun) a decent job.

Horrible Bosses’ Australian theatrical release date: August 25, 2011.