(Video on Demand, July 2016) Five years after her breakout role in Bridesmaid, Melissa McCarthy has become an authentic movie star, to the level where she’s able to put together her own vanity projects. The Boss couldn’t be any more purely McCarthy, revolving around a character she created, co-written by her husband Ben Falcone (who also directs), and featuring her in a role that takes up most of the film. The result, on the other hand, may be too much McCarthy. While not a disaster, The Boss does feel meandering, overlong and curiously unfunny. While the structure of the script is conventional enough in a comic-underdog way, the rest of the film doesn’t come together. McCarthy’s character is unpleasant (although not as actively irritating as some of her previous roles), the jokes don’t reach for much and the surprises are few. Other players such as Kristen Bell and Peter Dinklage do their best to keep up, but this is the McCarthy show and while she’s OK as an actress, she gives herself no favours as a writer. Some bits work even then they feel familiar (such as the slow-motion girl scout fight sequence) while others just flop aimlessly. What’s unfortunate is that the McCarthy persona is fundamentally irritating, and pushing it too far ends up alienating viewers (See Identity Theft), while not taking advantage of it leads to boredom and restlessness. There’s an ideal balance to strike, but it’s not to be found in The Boss, which—at best—merely works as a run-of-the-mill comedy.
(Video on Demand, October 2015) By now, the Bond spy film formula has been spoofed, lampooned and deconstructed so often (even within the Bond series) that Bond-parodies have become a sub-genre in themselves. Spy arrives in this crowded field with a few advantages: Melissa McCarthy may have a divisive comic persona, but she’s absolutely shameless in getting whatever laughs she can, and when you have the production budged to get both Jude Law and Jason Statham as comic foils, it’s already a step up from the usual B-grade effort. So it is that director Paul Feig tries his damnedest to deliver a polished Bond parody, and does score a good number of laughs along the way. His action scenes may not be as good as they could be (although there is a pretty good kitchen fight late in the film) but Spy does have a reasonable veneer of big-budget polish. McCarthy isn’t entirely annoying as a CIA desk agent compelled to become a field operative, but Jason Statham steals the show as an insane and ineffective parody of the kind of action hero he often plays. (Rose Byrne and Peter Serafinowicz also shine in smaller roles.) Otherwise, Spy gets a lot of mileage out of combining puerile humor with its spy subject matter, although the deconstruction/reconstruction mechanism is very familiar by now. It does feel a bit long (something that probably wasn’t helped by seeing the slightly-longer and more digressive “unrated version”) but there is a decent amount of plot to go with the improvised jokes. While Spy doesn’t break as much tradition as it thinks it does, it remains a decent comedy, a fair showcase for McCarthy and a step up for Feig, whose direction seems to improve slightly with every film.
(On Cable TV, October 2014) What happens when Hollywood’s insistence in showcasing an irritating comic persona runs into a complete lack of sympathy? I’ll be the first to admit that Melissa McCarthy’s supporting turn in Bridesmaids was one of the best things about it. But based on The Heat and now Identity Thief, it looks as if that kind of humor doesn’t work as a leading performance. Once again, McCarthy finds herself playing an abrasive, brash and thoroughly unlikable character: an identity thief, living large on other people’s accounts while incidentally ruining their lives. Well, I’m not laughing. Of course, thing being a bog-standard mainstream Hollywood comedy, we know what’s next: rehabilitation of her character through even worse antagonists, pitiable childhood trauma, deep-seated sweetness and out-of-character heartfelt actions. Well guess what, Hollywood: I’m still not playing along. That character remains unlikable throughout, and much of the film follows along with it. It doesn’t help that Identity Thief remains by-the-numbers as a road movie featuring opposites: the plot beats are always obvious, and nothing makes the material rise above mediocrity. Too bad; I really like Jason Bateman as the straight man, there are plenty of interesting actors buried in secondary roles (from Genesis Rodriguez to Robert Patrick to John Cho) and the film is directed cleanly by Seth Gordon, with even a spectacular car chase midway through to keep things interesting. (But then again, mid-movie car chases have becomes something of a fixture in recent mainstream buddy comedies, and I’m not sure why.) Identity Thief earns its audience’s antipathy early on and never lets go –by the time it’s over, we’re just glad it’s over.
(On Cable TV, August 2014) It’s almost liberating to realize, shortly into a film, that you’re not the target audience. It’s a realization that frees you from the burden of trying to like the movie: Once you realize it’s aimed at someone else, you can become as dismissive as you can. So it is that comedy The Heat is really aimed at another kind of audience. While I’m left uncharmed by Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, I can remind myself that the movie is for someone else. I can criticize the dumb humor, unlikable characters, simplistic plot points and lazy witless approach and who’s going to stop me? The movie is made for someone else. Overlong, repetitive and unnecessarily gruesome? Not. For. Me. I can find peace with The Heat as long as I remind myself that I shouldn’t be watching it. This isn’t meant to be a solid procedural cop drama: it’s a high-concept (Bullock reprising Miss Congeniality! McCarthy being as rude and foul as she can be!) executed just well enough by director Paul Feig to ensure that the target audience feels that it got what it wanted. It turns out that I like McCarthy a lot less in lead roles than in supporting turns such as Bridesmaids, and the tonal problems with the script frankly pale besides its unpleasant atmosphere. I suppose that I should feel satisfied that this is a female takeover of a typically masculine film genre. I should probably be happy that a performer as unorthodox as McCarthy gets a big leading role. But somehow, as The Heat plays out, I’m left out in the cold and unsatisfied by the results. But, oh yes, this isn’t for me.
(In theaters, June 2011) There’s definitely something refreshing in seeing a women-centric film trying to one-up the boys in the R-rated comedy department: Bad language, worse behaviour and gross-out gags aren’t the sole province of frat-boys, and seeing Bridesmaids trying to be outrageous carries its own doubtful freshness. I just wish the result would have been consistent, because the entire movie veers between downbeat humiliation and all-out outrageousness. The pacing of the film, particularly in its first half, seems slack to the point of obnoxiousness: mini-sketches go on for far longer than the joke is worth (ex; one-upping memories of the bride-to-be at the engagement party) while the story advances with little wit in its editing. (Things change, a bit, with the trip to Vegas and the “trying to get a cop’s attention” sequence.) It really doesn’t help that the script seems convinced of its ability to combine the cringe-worthy story of a woman hitting bottom while still flying off in far less subtle bursts of crass comedy. Character-driven comedy doesn’t always mesh well with pratfalls and crude silliness, and Bridesmaids shows why: By the time the heroine trashes a sumptuous bridal shower, we’re cringing rather than enjoying the self-destructive nature of the act. (It’s also annoying that at times, the film seems to ape Saturday Night Live, not only in dragging scenes longer than they should be, but building the film as a series of sketches.) Dramatically, the self-destructive lead character is too annoying to be fully sympathetic and the film seems so intent on chronicling her downward spiral that it doesn’t provide much in terms of payoffs. Still, even with mixed feelings about the film in general, I still laughed a bit too much to be entirely dismissive: While Kristen Wiig is better when she’s acting seriously than when she’s trying to mug for the camera, Melissa McCarthy steals practically nearly every scene she has, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper are both under-used and I’m already on record since Idiocracy as being happy to watch Maya Rudolph in just about anything. There are a few funny lines, successful sketches (the airplane sequence, overlong but ending on a high note), silly sight-gags and absurd non-sequiturs to qualify Bridesmaids as a comedy when it’s at its best –the problem is the time in-between, stuck watching the protagonist as she digs herself deeper in trouble. Those don’t belong in the same movie. Where’s a competent script editor when you need one?