The Boss **

An innocuous comedy that gets by if graded on a severe curve.

Is it worth $10? No 

Melissa McCarthy came out of nowhere in 2011’s “Bridesmaids” and impressively initiated a successful run of starring roles that built upon (or, as the less politely inclined might say, imitated) the persona created in her breakout hit. She was the crass, overweight, foul-mouthed woman who didn’t take guff from anyone. But then she followed up a string of box office hits with 2014’s “Tammy,” in which she took her persona to the extreme, and that ended up testing even her most ardent fan’s patience.

Now she returns with “The Boss,” which features the same director (Ben Falcone, also her husband) and co-writers (McCarthy herself and Falcone) of “Tammy.” Did they learn from their earlier mistake? Yes, a little. Does it result in a good film? Not, really. At best, “The Boss” is an average broad comedy. At worst, it’s unbearable.

Melissa McCarthy is Michelle Darnelle, a Martha Stewart-esque self-made millionaire and self-help guru who is riding high until she’s indicted for insider trading and sent to prison for five months. While in jail, her ex-lover Renault (the great Peter Dinklage, unfunny), né Ronald, raids her empire and leaves her penny-less. Michelle turns to her long-suffering (former) assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), for help. With the help of Claire and her daughter, Rachel, Michelle embarks on rebuilding her empire, this one based on her twisted version of the Girl Scouts and their cookies. But with the enemies she’s made during her initial ride to the top, this new endeavor will be more difficult than she initially thought.

The film begins with two interminable scenes that caused me to give up hope. The first one is an extended sequence at one of Michelle’s self-help extravaganzas, and its sole joke seems to be the sight of a plus size woman dancing to hip-hop. The second endless scene follows immediately, and it at least tries for some verbal wit, but again, the focus is on one bad joke presented ad-infinitum. In this case, we’re supposed to laugh at Michelle wearing a ridiculous mouthpiece that holds her lips away from her teeth so that Claire can apply whitener.

Despite the inauspicious opening, the movie manages to claw its way back from these nadirs to become…innocuous. But if you consider just how low the beginning of the movie is, that’s quite a feat. While it never course corrects into greatness (or even goodness, or okay-ness), I give “The Boss” credit for becoming somewhat watchable for most of its run time.

How is it watchable? For one, the movie picks up the pace after the opening and then breezes by. And it was especially heartening to see that the inevitable third act alienation between the characters was dealt with swiftly and somewhat logically. I was also glad that Claire wasn’t written as Michelle’s doormat. She stands up to her throughout the film, though without much result. Still, I was glad to see Kristen Bell play a stronger character. Melissa McCarthy also has some nice, chuckle-worthy scenes with Rachel.

And that’s the biggest difference between “The Boss” and “Tammy.” McCarthy is so much less annoying this time around. And while that difference isn’t night and day (it follows Hollywood’s favorite creed, “It’s the same, but different.”), it’s enough that I didn’t actively hate her, and that helped make the movie more palatable.

McCarthy is a versatile actress. Don’t believe me? Watch “Gilmore Girls,” where she was sweet, bright, bubbly, and totally removed from the character we’ve seen again and again on the silver screen since 2011. It would be nice to see her go back to that once in a while.

But “The Boss” is what it is. It’s sophomoric although I get the sense that’s what the director and writers were going for. I don’t find Melissa McCarthy falling downs two sets of stairs particularly funny. Nor is the sight of her serving a tennis ball into her lawyer’s throat the height of hilarity to me.  Outside of the dreadful opening, though, the movie seems to accomplish exactly what it sets out to do. And if that doesn’t crossover with my tastes then too bad for me, I guess. There is an audience for this movie, and if you find the jokes I described above funny then you just might be that audience. Just do me a one favor. If you choose to see “The Boss,” leave me at home.

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