Melissa McCarthy is a two-man woman when it comes to her career. With writer/director Paul Feig, she’s found some of her greatest success, from her breakout in “Bridesmaids,” to the runaway hit of “The Heat,” to last year’s surprise, “Spy.” Then there’s her husband, Ben Falcone, a fellow alum of the Groundlings Comedy theater, with whom she co-wrote, and he directed “Tammy,” and now “The Boss.”
While the Feig films are more tightly and traditionally structured, with a high joke density, the Falcone films have proven to be loose and profoundly weird, with room to indulge in strange bits and riffs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re in the tank for McCarthy’s specific brand of character-driven physical humor. In both “Tammy” and “The Boss,” McCarthy and Falcone take high-concept characters of McCarthy’s — both rambunctious women-children who enjoy rap music and flouting the law — and set them free in a lightly sketched out cinematic world.
In “The Boss,” McCarthy plays Michelle Darnelle, a cold-blooded, no-holds-barred wheeler and dealer and the “47th wealthiest woman in America.” Michelle has a penchant for high turtlenecks, flowing tunics and dirty-mouthed smack talk honed in the halls of Wall Street.
She gets popped for insider trading by her lover-turned-nemesis Ron/Renault (Peter Dinklage), and after her time in the clink, ends up on the couch of her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell). It’s there that she cooks up her new business venture with the help of Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) – starting up a girls’ troop, the Darnelle Darlings, selling brownies and giving the girls a cut of the profits. Hijinks ensue.
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The structure of “The Boss” doesn’t quite work, and the transitions between acts are wonky as all get out. But there are nuggets of hilarity to be found. One of the funniest moments comes before the opening titles, when Michelle raps her version of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” (complete with T-Pain cameo) during a pyrotechnic-infused financial motivational speech. It’s absurd and perfect. Similarly, the troop vs. troop street fight is inappropriately funny and ridiculous. The way McCarthy articulates “Do-ri-to” like a foreign delicacy, or a riff in which she razzes Claire’s date night sweater are hilarious. While the film allows for these moments, those bits are just bits, and don’t necessarily fit into a larger whole.
There are some pseudo girl-power messages about taking a leadership role in the business world, going after your dreams and empowering young women through financial means. These ideas are interesting, especially when Michelle barges in on a boys country club lunch, but they’re only half-baked. Similarly, the concept of a convicted felon/business shark bringing her skills to a girls troop is a great one, but that idea is largely dropped in order to focus on the interpersonal relationships and Michelle’s rivalry with Ron.
As a film, “The Boss” isn’t so boss. The writing doesn’t stand up to McCarthy’s talents, and the humor relies more on her delivery and physical commitment than on actual written jokes. But it’s an opportunity to watch a comedic performer at the top of her game revel boldly in her own confident weirdness. That’s not something you often get to see on the big screen.
☆ ☆ 1/2 (out of 4)
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Tyler Labine, Ella Anderson.
Director: Ben Falcone.
Rated: R for sexual content, language and brief drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.