It happens to every big screen comic sooner or later. Eventually, some desperate director, working from a deathly-dull script, pleads into that comic’s ear, “Just get in front of the camera and DO something, SAY something, ANYTHING funny.”
And a whole movie, often an entire career, crashes down around his or her ears when the comic fires blanks.
It’s happening to Kevin Hart, and sooner than he would have expected. And it happens to Melissa McCarthy in the catastrophic comic miscalculation titled “The Boss.”
Scene after scene has McCarthy, as a high-powered corporate titan and inspirational speaker (Think Suze Orman on steroids, the filmmakers certainly want you to.), try out flailing bits of slapstick, or stop and just jabber through every riff she can think of in a given situation.
And as the movie dawdles forward, she riffs into a deafening silence. The laughs don’t even land with a thud. In “The Boss,” they almost never land at all.
Dolled-up in bedazzled versions of wealth-guru Orman’s infamous power Mumus, McCarthy is Michelle Darnell, a role-model to female corporate America. Her seminars are rock concerts (dancing, rapping), her (profanely-titled) books are best-sellers.
She’s got Gayle King profiling her on TV. And yes, that’s your first warning sign this film is a fiasco in the making. If you can’t get Oprah, who can handle comedy, you don’t do the bit. Gayle King has no visible talents other than being Oprah’s BFF. Lose the bit.
Michelle grew up an orphan, returned to the orphanage by every family willing to take her in, maybe the funniest sequence in the movie packaged right at the beginning. She was abrasive at birth. She has, at one point or another, screwed-over every business person she’s ever dealt with, starting with the lover-colleague (Peter Dinklage) she beat out for a career-making promotion. Dinklage, BTW, has never been less funny than as this lisping lovesick corporate kingpin.
Michelle has her bodyguard and “Yes” man, Tito (Cedric Yarbrough), the one who assures her that her butchery of “Who’s on first?” — “Who’s on my baseball?” — is both correct, and hilarious. And then there’s her underpaid single-mom assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell, badly-used), a truth-teller Michelle takes utterly for granted.
Michelle loses it all, goes to prison for SEC violations, and then talks Claire into anchoring her comeback. The movie’s clever conceit, given away WAY too early, is that Michelle sees the Girl Scout cookie scheme — they’re called Dandelions, here — as rife with exploitation (of the girls-as-saleswomen) and ready for a hostile takeover.
McCarthy, who has made money off even her off-days since becoming America’s Plus-size Sweetheart, peppers her scenes with long, awkward lists of once-rich Michelle’s new experiences. Like discovering Doritos.
“Not a cheese found in nature, but cheese-adjacent!”
Or sofa-beds. Or public transit. Hil-arious.
She’s forever starting mom-fights and turf wars with the other Dandelions and their moms, or swearing and drinking and dropping other tidbits about human reproduction and human failings on the pre-teen girls.
“Booze — It’s what makes the Irish so mean. And I can say that, because I’m Scottish!”
It’s impossible not to listen to Michelle’s “All I do is win!” mantra, her “Martha STEWART got it all back, and was MORE beloved” after prison material, and skip past the Suze Orman comparisons straight to Donald Trump. He’s also been known to talk well past the punch-line, filling the air with nonsense, hoping something sticks.
McCarthy doesn’t play the lovelorn “fat girl” card here. Much. Which is refreshing. But the movie is a miscalculation in every other regard.
One brutally unfunny scene chases, ever-so-slowly, the one before it off screen. Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does with a finale that seems invented by desperate people spending somebody else’s millions in search of an idea that works.
The problem here is the script, which is a disaster. McCarthy gets partial credit for it. So does her husband, the actor Ben Falcone. Another problem is the limp, listless, tone-deaf direction, also handled by Ben Falcone. Ben Falcone plays Michelle’s lawyer in the movie. And isn’t funny at that, either.
That day when Melissa M. was stuck, uncomfortably straining, on camera, to save her star vehicle, had to happen eventually. But when it’s the star’s spouse making a hash of her rep and her career just as she’s getting going, it’s all the more tragic.
MPAA Rating:R for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Cecily Strong, Ella Anderson, Kathy Bates
Credits: Directed by Ben Falcone, script by Ben Falcone, Steve Mallory, Melissa McCarthy. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:39