The Boss Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage. Directed by Ben Falcone. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
The Boss comes off like a focus-grouped studio comedy making poor use of star Melissa McCarthy’s talents, but as the co-writer, executive producer and creator of the central character (from her early improv days), McCarthy really has no one to blame for this one but herself. Like 2014’s ill-conceived Tammy, The Boss is a collaboration between McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone, who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife (along with Steve Mallory), produced and directed. Also like Tammy, The Boss fails to build a coherent story around its central character, who’s probably great for a sketch or two but has trouble carrying a feature film.
McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a business mogul of some indeterminate industry who gets convicted of insider trading and spends five months in a posh prison. When she’s released, she discovers that all her assets have been seized and her prior associates want nothing to do with her, and the only person willing to help is her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell). The ruthless, self-centered Michelle needs to learn compassion, but her character arc lines up inconsistently with her hardscrabble background and cutthroat business practices.
Michelle and Claire start up a new business venture that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, pitting them against a Girl Scouts-like organization with their for-profit version of young girls selling sweet treats. The movie sets up various antagonists for Michelle and Claire only to forget about them after a few scenes, and the climax involves a baffling heist against Michelle’s business rival and ex-lover Renault (Peter Dinklage).
McCarthy is up for anything, as usual, including some crude slapstick and lots of vulgar insults, but she nearly exhausts herself carrying the movie on her own. The generally charming Bell plays a complete blank, and there’s a disappointing lack of funny, appealing secondary characters. McCarthy’s brand of go-for-broke humor works best when she’s supported by a strong ensemble, but she and Falcone fail to build a solid framework around Michelle. There are a handful of funny moments (including Michelle’s hilariously blasphemous rant about a colleague’s dead wife), but they’re few and far between in a movie that never quite figures out what kind of joke it’s trying to make.