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Anyone who has seen “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat” and “Spy” knows that Melissa McCarthy can be very funny. Anyone who has seen the critically flogged “Tammy” knows that you are only as funny as your material. “The Boss,” her latest film, provides a sad-sack case in point. While this movie is funnier than “Tammy,” that’s like saying thumbscrews are less painful than the guillotine.
Perhaps in the future McCarthy would be wise to choose as her director Paul Feig, who helmed her aforementioned funny films, rather than her husband, Ben Falcone, who helmed these two dreadful films. At least he wasn’t responsible for “Identity Thief.”
McCarthy also shares blame for co-writing “Tammy” and “The Boss” with Falcone. For “The Boss,” they are joined in the scripting duties by Steve Mallory, who makes his screenwriting debut here. It’s about as auspicious as the Titanic’s maiden voyage and just as jovial.
McCarthy doesn’t get much support here either from a cast that includes Kristen Bell, who won’t be confused with Kristen Wiig anytime soon. The funniest scenes in the film, instead, get provided by a hyperactive Murphy bed.
The movie opens with scenes of a young Michelle Darnell repeatedly returned to a Chicago orphanage apparently because she was such a handful. Wouldn’t it have been funnier to show her misbehaving? Otherwise, the parents come off as colossal jerks. And if they were, show that bad behavior since that could have been funny, too, while also providing a little sympathy for Michelle.
As an adult, Michelle (McCarthy) merits no sympathy, however. She’s a brash, foul-mouthed bully who makes Donald Trump look like Bambi.
Hardened by her childhood rejections, Michelle has transformed herself into the 47th wealthiest woman in America. While she works hard, she exhibits no scruples as she climbs the corporate ladder by gleefully stepping over others. Unfortunately, none of these power play scenes is remotely funny.
One particularly lame bit has Michelle’s mouth opened up wide by a contraption so that her put-upon assistant Claire (Bell) can whiten her teeth. Michelle does looks repulsive. It’s just not humorous. You may also wonder why she wears turtlenecks throughout the film. Is McCarthy making a funny fashion statement or does she have a huge hickey she wants hidden? Perhaps it’s cosmetic. What it’s not is comic.
Michelle eventually runs afoul of a former co-worker and lover Renault (Peter Dinklage), who discovers her inside trading scheme and gets her busted.
Now let’s take out our cliché handbook as we watch Michelle go from rags to riches to incarceration. Can redemption be far behind?
Penniless and homeless when she leaves prison, Michelle moves in with Claire and Claire’s tween daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) without displaying a hint of regret or remorse. Clearly prison has not rehabilitated her.
To get back into the capitalistic game, Michelle raids Rachel’s scout troop and uses the young girls to sell Claire’s brownies. She soon builds up the business but then problems arise. We have the prerequisite misunderstanding, feelings gets hurt, documents have to be absconded, fights have to break out, breasts have to be manhandled and then — spoiler alert — everyone dies in a kiln explosion. Wishful thinking.
“The Boss” does have a few funny scenes without the Murphy bed to break up the tedium. Michelle’s brutal verbal assault on an obnoxious scout mother (Annie Mumolo) is worth a chuckle. More merriment comes courtesy of Eva Peterson as Chrystal, a scout with a pronounced sadistic streak. The film would have been better off teaming her with McCarthy in more scenes.
Also, McCarthy, even saddled with a substandard script and shoddy direction, manages to elicit laughs thanks to her fine-tuned bravado shtick. She’s an unrelenting force of nature. If a lava flow had a sense of humor, it would be called McCarthy.
In the Oscar-talent-wasted category, Kathy Bates returns — she slummed along with Susan Sarandon in “Tammy.” In “The Boss,” she plays Michelle’s mentor in another embarrassing performance. I assume Kathy cashed her check quickly.
“The Boss” is one of those mediocre comedies where not even the outtakes are amusing. No one likes to see skills squandered and McCarthy has her comic chops hacked to pieces here.
We can only hope that she tells her actor husband that he’d be better off in front of the camera than behind it, and that she hasn’t misplaced Feig’s phone number.
“The Boss” is 99 minutes long and rated for “R” for sexual content, language and brief drug use. It is directed by Ben Falcone and written by Falcone, Melissa McCarthy and Steve Mallory. It stars McCarthy, Kristen Bell and Peter Dinklage.
Movie review: This Boss’ should be fired
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