To some extent, you know what you're getting with a Melissa McCarthy comedy: a silly plot, a blustery performance and a whole lot of raunchy jokes. These can be wildly funny or incredibly obnoxious, depending on who McCarthy is collaborating with. Her most successful collaboration thus far has been with writer/director Paul Feig, who gave McCarthy her breakout supporting part in Bridesmaids and has given her strong starring roles ever since. Her weakest collaboration has been with writer/director Ben Falcone, who gave us the dreadful Tammy and has now delivered the equally disappointing The Boss.
The curious thing is that Falcone is McCarthy's husband, which you'd think would give him a bit of insight into what makes McCarthy such an effective comic force. Unfortunately, The Boss is the sort of film that might make viewers who haven't seen another McCarthy movie wonder how this woman became a star. It's a witless, joyless, frequently irritating movie that manages to make McCarthy's high-volume filthiness feel like a sign of creative desperation.
McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, the wealthy, selfish, mean-spirited CEO of a wildly successful company. How rich is she? Rich enough that when she gives a motivational speech, she descends into the arena on the back of a pyrotechnics-spewing golden phoenix and then proceeds to sing “All I Do is Win” alongside an army of back-up dancers and T-Pain himself. The actual speech is a variation on Gordon Gecko's “greed is good” sermon, as Michelle declares that making money is all that matters and that people who get in the way of that goal need to be cut out of your life. Hmmmm, I wonder what life lessons Michelle will learn over the course of this movie?
Alas, Michelle's success won't last forever: she's convicted of insider trading, stripped of her fortune and thrown in (a very comfortable) prison for a few months. When she gets back out, she has no friends, no money and no clue about what to do next. She turns to her former personal assistant Claire Rawlings (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars), who is understandably bitter about the way Michelle treated her in the past. Even so, Claire reluctantly agrees to help Michelle get back on her feet. Eventually, Michelle discovers that Claire has a killer brownie recipe, and voila: Michelle has a new product to sell. Enlisting the aid of a group of pre-teen girls – dubbed “Darnell's Darlings” - she quickly begins to work her way back to success.
The film's oh-so-predictable plot is dull, but the bigger problem is that the movie seems to feel that the funniest way to handle every new gag is to deliver it in the broadest, noisiest most obvious way possible. Jokes aren't merely delivered, but highlighted, underlined and re-delivered just in case you missed them the first time. A conflict between Darnell's Darlings and the Dandelions – another girl scout-type group – turns into a violent spat that involves a lot of property damage. A conflict between Michelle and her ex-lover/professional rival Renault (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones) climaxes with a sword fight featuring an interlude in which Renault buries his head in Michelle's crotch and talks about how much he's missed it. There's a fine line between inspired stupidity and plain old stupidity, and The Boss is consistently on the wrong side of it.
McCarthy created this character when she was a member of the Groundlings, which may explain why the film feels like one of those Saturday Night Live movies in which a character built for sketch comedy is forced to march through a long, formulaic plot. The character is pretty thin (her only real defining traits are her wealth, her profane bluntness and the fact that she wears turtlenecks that cover most of her chin), and we grow weary of her long before the movie finishes dragging her through a series of mundane life lessons. Michelle lacks the essential humanity that McCarthy has brought to most of her roles, which wouldn't be a problem if the movie didn't try to get all warm-n-fuzzy in its final act.
One can't help but pity poor Kristen Bell, who has the thankless task of playing the film's perpetually stressed-out straight man. Her job largely consists of saying “Michelle!” every time Michelle says something shocking (which happens frequently), staring at McCarthy in bewilderment and enduring an abundance of verbal abuse. It feels like an exceptionally poor use of her talent. The only time the film hits something of a comic groove is a scene in which Bell and McCarthy spend time awkwardly poking each other's boobs and making jokes about them. It's dumb, but for just a minute, the plot fades away and the two leads click with each other... a brief glimpse of a film considerably more entertaining than the one we're actually stuck with.
Rating: ★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Year: 2016