Steve Martin rocked it in “The Jerk,” Albert Brooks in “Lost in America,” Dan Aykroyd in “Trading Places,” and, of course, Cate Blanchett raised the bar in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”
They’re reversal-of-fortune movie plots. Cookie-cutter stuff. Which makes “The Boss,” bankable comedy artist Melissa McCarthy’s latest yuk-up, that much more disappointing.
McCarthy’s Michelle Darnell wasn’t exactly born a poor black child, but she was unwanted, bouncing from foster family to foster family before concluding she doesn’t need anyone. She’s since become wealthy, powerful and ruthless, but like all good things, her reign as a business kingpin comes to an end when she’s arrested for insider trading.
Naturally, after her release she finds herself shunned by old business partners and after dragging her Louis Vuitton trunk around Chicago for the day, she begrudgingly takes up with her ex-assistant (Kristen Bell) until she can stage a comeback.
Director and co-writer Ben Falcone (aka Mr. McCarthy) manages to fill 100 minutes with a minimum of jokes — some of the better ones must have been cut, because a lot of the humor feels unfulfilled. For instance, there is a too-long scene with McCarthy applying instant spray tan. Bell warns her to be careful because “that stuff gets darker.” And that’s it. The presumptive payoff is an immediate cut to her walking into a board meeting looking like a minstrel. I get why that would have been cut, but not why half of it was kept.
A bigger miss is Kathy Bates as McCarthy’s role model. She rescues McCarthy’s second-chance start-up with an angel investment. And that’s it. It felt like that was going to be the foundation for either a dirty corporate tit-for-tat comeuppance or a redemptive moment demonstrating the value of family, friendship and trust. Instead, she’s simply never seen again.
What we do get is a one-gag premise, albeit a good one. McCarthy hijacks Bell’s daughter’s Dandelion Troop, poaches the best cookie sellers and recruits them for her new girl-empowerment brownie empire (“Darnell’s Darlings”) schooling them on the essentials: the hard sell, greed, betrayal and an Ang Lee-inspired territorial dispute rumble.
Some solid laughs, but overall the execution here is undeserving of McCarthy’s range (see sidebar) and comedic talent.
Peter Dinklage co-stars.
What’s wrong with McCarthyism?
Few women comics can boast a body of work like that of Melissa McCarthy, who emerged on the screen seemingly out of nowhere in 2011. She has range and pathos, but as these films demonstrate, she also has the ability to crack us up:
“Bridesmaids” (2011). McCarthy’s break-out role was as the estrogen-amped Zach Galifianakis doppelganger Megan in this runaway Paul Feig hit that co-starred SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. If there was one takeaway, it was that we should avoid budget churrascarias.
“Identity Thief” (2013). Mild-mannered office weenie Jason Bateman is pushed to the dark side when McCarthy hijacks his identity. He sets out to track and return her to face the music in this odd couple road trip that is a little bit “Midnight Run” and a little bit “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
“The Heat” (2013). A by-the-book Fed (Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock) teams with a gritty street cop who’s not afraid to, uhhh, throw her weight around to catch a drug kingpin. But the real conflict, of course, comes from the mismatched partners. Formulaic but eminently watchable.
“St. Vincent” (2014). McCarthy plays a straight role as a single mother in this charmer about a crusty neighbor (Bill Murray) who finds out a lot about himself from the perspective of a young boy. Co-stars Naomi Watts and Chris O’Dowd at his best.
“Spy” (2015). This hysterical spy spoof finds McCarthy necessarily moving from desk-support to field work in spite of the objections of an old-school spy (Jason Statham). But some of the funniest bits come from the lesser-known Peter Serafinowicz as her Italian contact/admirer Aldo, and Miranda Hart as best friend and fellow underutilized analyst Nancy.