Fifteen years ago as a member of the Groundlings comedy troupe, Melissa McCarthy created Michelle Darnell, an unfiltered celebrity mogul spewing contempt for anyone who isn't her or entirely on her side.
Michelle is a very funny character in the spring of Donald Trump, when movies don't try as hard and politicians do. Each earned the title of The Boss with similar temperaments, only one deserves to make a fortune and he's running for president. Michelle, or more accurately McCarthy, needs better running mates.
The Boss is McCarthy's second collaboration with director and co-writer Ben Falcone, who is also her husband. While they are an adorable couple, Falcone isn't helping his partner succeed. The Boss isn't as comically misshapen as their Tammy, yet neither is it crisply hilarious as someone else's Spy.
McCarthy and Falcone aren't working with Spy's bench depth, either. There are no scene-stealing comedy surprises like Jason Statham here. McCarthy's foils range from bland perkiness (Kristen Bell) to cringing comedy beats (Peter Dinklage). To their credits, McCarthy and Falcone trust their screenplay (co-authored by ex-Groundling Steve Mallory) this time, relying less on improvised padding.
Still, The Boss feels like a fun character gradually wasted, setting up Michelle with a safe but smart premise, making it zing, then dropping it for a floundering third act development. Quitting while ahead might be wiser but that would leave a 70-minute movie.
The Boss opens like gangbusters, with Michelle turning a motivational speaking gig into something like a Beyonce halftime show. McCarthy sells every bit of Michelle's extravagant ego, barking orders and boasts like a perfectly coiffed pit bull. So far, so funny.
Some degree of plot must kick in, so The Boss sends Michelle to luxury prison for insider trading. Here's where overlooked opportunity creeps in. One scene of Michelle's prison routine, playing tennis on a manicured court ("I'm fighting for my life in the yard!"), makes us want a little more. No dice.
Michelle is released to a world that doesn't want her back. Broke and homeless, Michelle convinces her former assistant Claire (Bell) and tween-age daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), to take her in. Rachel is a member of the Dandelions girls club, and their cookie sale drive plus Claire's knockout brownie recipe gives Michelle an idea to recoup fame and especially fortune.
This portion is The Boss' peak, with Michelle recruiting mean girls to hawk brownies, upsetting the Dandelions' uber-Mom (Annie Mumolo) and sparking a street brawl. Troop Beverly Hills meets Anchorman and it works, until The Boss turns away from the R-rated kids angle when it's just heating up.
Instead, the plot turns to a corporate takeover of the brownie business, abrupt rifts in relationships and a tired burglary sequence in which McCarthy's stunt double gets the most laughs. The Boss already wasn't anything special, then it goes full common.
What's needed is an end to Falcone's on-the-job training, a reunion with a writer like Mumolo (Bridesmaids) and either a crack ensemble or a can't miss co-star like Sandra Bullock. Put a go-getter on the job like Michelle and make McCarthy great again.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.