There’s a through line that’s marked a number of Melissa McCarthy vehicles since her Oscar-nominated turn in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Take the greatly talented comedic actress, give her a mostly unpleasant character, establish a backstory that makes her somewhat sympathetic, and hope audiences eat it up. These rules have generally applied to Identity Thief, The Heat, and Tammy. None of them have been terribly impressive due to weak material. This applies to The Boss as well.
Reuniting with her Tammy director Ben Falcone (who’s also her husband), McCarthy is self-made mogul Michelle Darnell. She’s a ruthless investor who sells out arenas with her take no prisoners business advice. Kristen Bell is Claire, her overloaded executive assistant who isn’t even allowed that lofty sounding title. When Michelle’s actions land her a short stint in Club Fed for insider trading, she’s back to square one and dependent on her old subordinate for lodging. That means crashing on the sofa in a crowded apartment with Claire’s young daughter (Ella Anderson). A trip with that child to a Girl Scout type meeting gives Michelle her first post felony money making idea: take Claire’s delicious brownie making skills, market them with a team of cute kids selling them, and work her way back up the corporate ladder.
Along the way, Michelle clashes with some of her new minions parents (most humorously with Annie Mumolo’s tightly wound Mom). These clashes even lead to an Anchorman style no holds barred brawl (Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producers). The title character also deals with some of her own movie backstory demons. When she was young, Michelle bounced from one unhappy foster home to the next and has no sense or need in her view for family. Claire and daughter threaten to upset that apple cart.
There’s also the matter of her business rival Renault, former lover and wannabe samurai Renault (Peter Dinklage) trying to shut her burgeoning brownie enterprise down. His character is as bizarre as he sounds, but the “Game of Thrones” star does throw himself into it with gusto. A superfluous subplot involves Claire trying to get her groove back with a kind co-worker (Tyler Lapine).
The Boss veers between wildly broad characters and physical comedy (which McCarthy and her stunt double are quite good at) and attempts at heart string pulling that falls flat. McCarthy’s abilities were proven nearly six years ago in one Bridesmaids scene where she told Kristin Wiig to get her act together. It was a brilliant scene that I suspect is responsible for that Oscar nod. Unfortunately, by now, McCarthy’s act is getting disappointingly familiar and the material she’s giving herself is forgettable.
** (out of four)