By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — She is the current boss. Of female physical comedy, that is.

But can she stop detractors from seeing her as playing the same character over and over?

The Boss is comedic force of nature, Melissa McCarthy’s attempt to top herself and/or demonstrate her range.

Now, for anyone who’s been paying attention, this gifted, Emmy-winning (Mike & Molly) and Emmy-nominated (Saturday Night Live) performer has long since demonstrated her skill set, which certainly includes an abundance of improvisational creativity.

On the movie screen, she burst through with an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids, then played to moderate advantage in The Heat, St. Vincent, and Spy, while struggling in Identity Thief and Tammy.

 

(1 1/2 stars out of 4)

(1 1/2 stars out of 4)

 

Go-for-broke slapstick has been part of her stock-in-trade, as have been penchants for gruffness and crudity, with her “America’s Plus-Size Sweetheart” persona not necessarily trafficking in likeability and also including her casually and routinely hitting on and/or threatening men with bodily harm while issuing expletive-featuring rants.

Some of it was not just coarse and cutting but strident and grating, most of it broader than broad. But her unpredictability beckoned audiences.

Her star turns have not turned out as irresistible as her supporting work in Bridesmaids, but overall she has not had a bad batting average.

But The Boss is a major miscalculation.

McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell (the film’s original title), a brash, blustery, potty-mouthed mogul – one of the richest women in America, it just so happens — who receives a prison sentence for insider trading, after which she emerges and reinvents herself, determined to claw her way back and becoming the nation’s latest, as opposed to ex, sweetheart.

But she made her share of enemies on the way up – or is it down? — and they’re unlikely to just forget the past and forgive her her transgressions.

The central character is based on one McCarthy created as a member of the improv company, the Groundlings, fifteen years ago. Thus she co-wrote the script with the film’s director, actor Ben Falcone — who just happens to be McCarthy’s real-life husband and directed her in Tammy – and actor Steve Mallory.

But this second collaboration between star wife and director husband results in a strained, unfunny movie with a half-baked (at most) screenplay that isn’t even quite up to the modest standards of their first project, Tammy.

The premise here is so thin, it suggests a brief television sketch or an acting exercise. Stretched to feature length, it borders on the insufferable,

In bringing a character long since created for improv work into the narrative fold, the spousal collaborators have failed to create a cohesive or productive story, leaving the project with what seems like the need for a third voice, one to raise objections to things that are very obviously not working, regardless of any off-screen compatibility.

Falcone’s underemployment of what should be an effective supporting cast is perhaps another indication of that, as Kristen Bell as assistant Claire, Peter Dinklage as rival Renault, Kathy Bates as mentor Ida Marquette, as well as Annie Mumolo, Kristen Schaal, Margo Martindale, Cecily Strong, and Falcone himself are pretty much wasted.

But the film’s biggest problem may be that we’re stuck in the company – in pretty close to every frame — of a protagonist who’s not only unlikeable, but also mean-spirited, inappropriate, unethical, and cruel.

That she’s foul-mouthed as well would not automatically be a problem if, that is, her “colorful” language led to a few solid laughs.

Alas, it does not.

When all is said and done, and we’ve hired 1-1/2 stars out of 4, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone show us who’s The Boss. Our response: if that’s The Boss, go ahead and fire us.

 

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