"The Boss" Is A Fireable Offense

Melissa McCarthy comedy “The Boss” kicks off with “Love Will Keep Us Together” by cornball ’70s lounge act Captain & Tennille. The song’s ditzy clavinet riff is about as funny as the movie gets.

McCarthy headlines as Michelle Darnell, the 47th wealthiest person in America and financial advisor who delivers her counsel through raucous, arena-ready motivational speeches. Complete with fireworks, backup dancers, and live appearances from “All I Do Is Win” singer T-Pain, Michelle’s brand of self-help leans hard on spectacle over substance. Like Suze Orman on whippets, Michelle’s days are spent shouting positively meaningless affirmations at her adoring fans.

That is, until she’s arrested for insider trading.

Months later, without a dollar to her name, Michelle is released from the clink with but one sort-of-friend in the world – her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell). Claire and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) reluctantly take the disgraced financier into their apartment, moving quickly to get her back on her feet so they can reclaim their lives.

The film’s remaining hour and change sees the trio splinter off from a local Dandelion troupe (embarrassingly misspelled as “troup” on several occasions) to make a fortune from Claire’s ostensibly delicious homemade brownies. Even less interesting than it sounds, the bakery-centric story comes with far too many detours, from the cheap (a knock-down-drag-out fight between rival Dandelions) to the pointless (Peter Dinklage as Renault Michelle’s rival and former flame) to the inexplicable (a climactic sword fight). There are lots of curse words but little humor.

The scarcity of jokes and joke building (very few are paid off down the line) isn’t just an indictment against the screenplay, co-written by McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (who directs). It’s also a charge against their creative synergy. “The Boss” is the second movie to come of their partnership, following 2014’s abysmal, similarly unfunny “Tammy,” with Falcone still having no idea how to showcase his wife’s talents. The few laughs that are here are riffs on things that have nothing to do with the story being told (see: a couple mildly amusing asides on Doritos and bras) and the dozens that don’t land go down hard.

Kristen Bell’s performance is a relative highlight, with her character getting a modestly charming romantic side story with co-worker Mike (Tyler Labine). But even it ends up in service of a particularly ill-conceived dick joke. (There are several gags involving genitals, none of them funny.)

No, the screenplay is so short on ideas that it actually plays one particular piece of slapstick twice, in back-to-back scenes. Michelle, just out of a gratuitously mean-spirited argument during which she repeatedly calls a man’s deceased wife a whore, falls down a flight of stairs. Ha-ha. Cut to Renault’s limo, where he watches cell phone video of the exact same fall, laughing to himself.

If the story weren’t so anemic, the characters so roundly unpleasant, the pic’s handful of decent laughs might have won the day. But there’s no real conflict in the narrative and most of the humor is of the plug and play variety – loudness, vulgarity, and malice.

McCarthy is a gifted comedian, as evidenced by her collaborations with writer-director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”). But “The Boss” is no good, impossibly living down to the comedic wasteland that was “Tammy.” Comedy fans that prefer their humor basic and their stories ho-hum might lap up this particular McCarthy and Falcone joint. Everyone else will be left wondering if the couple – who very well might be soul mates in every other regard – should still be making movies together.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: April 8, 2016
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Ben Falcone
Screenwriters: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Steve Mallory
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Cecily Strong, Annie Mumolo
MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, language and brief drug use)