Would-Be Comedy "The Bronze" Is A Marvel Of Unfunniness

Gymnastics comedy “The Bronze” brings with it all the artfulness of a Bud Light commercial and the wit of a CBS sitcom – testimony that’s as much matter of fact as it is insult.

The film’s director Bryan Buckley is best (only) known for his beer commercials while writer and star Melissa Rauch is best (only) known for her role on “The Big Bang Theory” as one of the show’s many tired geek stereotypes living in a canned laughter echo chamber.

The upshot is a bad movie whose opening night slot at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival lays bare the insular, often oblivious world of festival programming and everything wrong with comedy in the 21st century.

The screenplay (co-written by Rauch and her husband, Winston) envisions itself a naughty riff on the story of 1996 Olympian Kerri Strug, parlaying an injured-gymnast-turned-national-icon character into an unlikely antihero.

Gymnast Hope Ann Gregory (Melissa Rauch) has morphed from the pride of Amherst, Ohio into a potty-mouthed, kleptomaniacal dope fiend who gets off on her past glories. (No, really; she masturbates to fuzzy VHS tapes of her old routines.) That’s the base of every would-be laugh in the movie, a shaky starting point that script never bothers to build on. Worse yet, it’s an unqualified rip-off of former HBO comedy “Eastbound And Down.”

That show saw co-conspirators Jody Hill and Danny McBride uproariously deface the bullshit façade of big and small screen American sports stories. “The Bronze” lazily follows the same outline but without adding so much as a word to the conversation or understanding that swear words are not jokes alone. (“The Big Bang Theory” connection is apparent in nearly every scene.)

When Hope’s father Stan (Gary Cole) convinces her to train a young gymnast named Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), the movie’s endgame couldn’t be more obvious. But wait, there’s more! We’re treated to an interminable love triangle between Hope and fellow trainers Ben (the ever-charming Thomas Middleditch) and Lance (Marvel’s Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan). To call a graphic late-game sex scene an embarrassment would be an embarrassment to the word “embarrassment.”

Rauch is endlessly grating in a role that seems custom made for an actress normally typecast as sweet (it’s easy to imagine Kristen Bell faring better). Since Rauch is largely an unknown commodity, it’s impossible to see anything but the loathsome character she inhabits. With a Frances-McDormand-in-“Fargo” accent that begs a familiarity that simply isn’t there, Rauch has no choice but to go down with the ship she helped build.

The actress has boasted on the talk show circuit about holding onto the script until someone allowed her to star in it. This was no run-of-the-mill miscalculation; it was a gaffe that’s likely to keep her out of starring roles for good, flubbing a potential movie career before it even approached the beam.

If there are a few sweet moments between Rauch and Middleditch here, they’re all but erased by an ineffectual story with a surplus of forgettable performances and an admittedly impressive void of genuine laughs.

Forget bronze. The movie isn’t even worth a handful of zinc.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: March 18, 2016
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Bryan Buckley
Screenwriters: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch
Starring: Melissa Rauch, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong
MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and some drug use)