2.5 stars (out of 4)
If anyone is going to milk a laugh out of lounging on a super-wonky sofa bed, it’s Melissa McCarthy.
Though the gifted comedian exudes fearless energy onscreen, her most impressive talent is the ability to elevate so-so material. And face it: that’s how she’s spent the bulk of her post-Bridesmaids career. Tammy. St. Vincent. The Heat. The Identity Thief. This Is 40. Mike & Molly. Her third stint as host of Saturday Night Live. You can add her latest film (out April 8) to the pile of mediocrity. At least it’s situated at the top.
Close up on Michelle Darnell, a brash-talkin’ Chicago finance mogul who brags during a public speaking engagement that she’s the “47th wealthiest woman in America.” She lives in a mansion and has a single-mom assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), catering to her every need. If Michelle wants her teeth whitened, then by golly, Claire will take a brush and scrub. Let us take a brief take time out and rejoice that McCarthy is not playing another pathetic sadsack. Barking orders is this woman’s forte. She looks fab too, btw.
Of course, with great power also comes a great rival. His name is Renault (Peter Dinklage), and the two had a fling in the ‘90s. He’s been seething ever since and wants revenge. He gets it by busting Michelle for insider training. She loses it all — her moolah, her house, her minions and her good name. Heck, she doesn’t even have anyone to pick her up from the slammer. Fellow white-collar ex-con Martha Stewart was greeted with much wider open arms, she fumes.
Michelle didn’t make her money based on dumb luck, though. She has a gift for gab and manages to persuade Claire to let her crash at her small apartment with her and her sweet pre-teen daughter. She spends her days lounging on the couch, devouring Claire’s yummy homemade brownies. Soon, the light bulb goes on: She’s going to start a grass-roots business by selling the baked goods to the masses. And she’s going to use the kid’s Girl Scouts-like troop as her aggressive door-to-door salespeople. It’s a foolproof plan! After all, they already sell truckloads of cookies and never see a penny of it because of the whole non-profit organization thing. This business model is the exact opposite. Everyone gets some coin.
It’s not a gag-a-minute set-up (how could it be? Look at all that exposition!). This is the kind of broad comedy in which Michelle accidentally slamming a tennis ball into someone’s neck counts as a belly laugh. But the plot is inspired. In fact, a Wolf of Wall Street meets Troop Beverly Hills comedy is long overdue. Read: How has nobody ever thought to mash up these plots?! Girls of a certain age will, well, eat up the extremes that their peers go to for a sale. You keep waiting for Michelle to con them out of their hard-earned cash, and it blessedly never happens.
Thanks to her perfectly coiffed hair, camera-ready heavy makeup and trusty Goyard tote, McCarthy cuts an imposing figure as a de facto den leader. She works her talents big time as she brazenly mouths off to anyone who crosses her and the girls. In this rated-R pic, no swear word is too crass or sexual innuendo too coarse. Not even Gayle King emerges unscathed. You have to pity Bell, who doesn’t play Claire for a fool, yet is clearly over-matched by her costar. A tossed-in love interest (Tyler Labine) adds nothing.
McCarthy must shoulder some of the blame, too: As a cowriter (along with director husband Ben Falcone), she fails to let the movie reach its dumb-fun potential. Instead of focusing on Michelle molding her pupils into headstrong mini-Michelles, she switches the narrative to the sinister Dinklage character and shady business dealings. Questionable plot holes become ludicrous ones. More frustrating, the pic culminates with a clunky and extended botched heist. If McCarthy and Dinklage are going to do battle with each other, there must be more oomph to the scene than the obvious sight gag of their physical disparity. (Get back to us when the actor wields a sword in Game of Thrones.)
Come June, the actress can redeem herself in Ghostbusters. Until then, no merit badge for her.
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