There are two types of Melissa McCarthy movies.
The first are the ones she makes with filmmakers such as Paul Feig (Bridesmaids and Spy) and Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?). They’re not always hits (The Kitchen was woeful) but on the whole, they showcase her versatile talents.
Then there are the movies McCarthy makes with her husband, Ben Falcone – Superintelligence, The Boss, Tammy and Life of the Party. They are, uh, not good.
They’re the equivalent of the medical waste excreted from Adam Sandler and Kevin James’s shared credits – every time it happens, somewhere in the world, a fairy dies.
Unfortunately for everyone, Thunder Force is the second type of McCarthy movie. The upside is it is better than its predecessors – but that’s like when a start-up says it had 759 per cent growth from a base of $17 in revenue.
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Written and directed by Falcone, Thunder Force actually has an intriguing premise – two middle-aged women become superheroes – and a hell of a cast that also includes Oscar winners Octavia Spencer and Melissa Leo, Emmy winners Jason Bateman and Bobby Cannavale, plus Marvel star Pom Klementieff.
And yet, this scabrous, poorly paced, frequently boring and occasionally disgusting movie wastes all that talent. Spencer sleepwalks through the production, and Cannavale and Klementieff couldn’t be hammier if someone poured apple sauce over them both.
The redeeming performances are from McCarthy, who at least is trying, and Bateman, reminiscent of his snarkiest Arrested Development energy – except he has literal crab pincers for arms, an effect that never rises above bad sketch levels of ludicrousness.
The story is centred on two women who were childhood best friends but fell out decades earlier. One of them, Emily (Spencer), is a genius-level scientist with a murdered parents origin story and the other, Lydia (McCarthy), is an abrasive Van Halen fan who tipples beer into her cereal dinner.
The Chicago they live in is filled with supervillains whose powers were awakened by some force that only chose those prone to sociopathy. But for a world that has unstoppable supervillains, it’s oddly not anarchic.
The world-building is so lazy there’s little to distinguish it from ours other than a “duck and cover” poster.
Emily has formulated a treatment that could turn regular, non-sociopathic people into superpowered beings – the heroes to offset the villains. When Lydia is accidentally dosed, it starts both women down a path to face Cannavale’s The King, a maniacal suit-wearing mayoral candidate.
Or something like that. Thunder Force doesn’t commit to its story, characterisations or internal logic as much as it commits to a recurring gag about raw chicken that makes you dry-retch.
Thunder Force always goes for the cheap laugh, except without the actual laughing. If there are two chuckles to be found among its groin-related pratfalls or jokes about severe diarrhoea, they were well hidden.
McCarthy has said these movies are meant to be harmless fun for people to come home to after a long day and have a laugh, take their minds off things.
There’s merit to that argument – and those kinds of movies exist including the ones she made with Feig. But there’s little to persuade that the Falcone/McCarthy joint productions qualify as fun for the audience.
They are undoubtedly fun for them though and you can totally see why the wife-and-husband team make them. Studios give them millions of dollars and just let them play – though such privileges are not afforded to infinitely more talented filmmakers.
It’s the same approach and generous accountants that lets Sandler keep making movies with his friends, without any regard for coherency or quality.
Netflix probably cares very little that Thunder Force is terrible because people will watch it anyway thanks to its big names, and the fact they only have to press play, not hand over $20 for a ticket.
And if those viewers make it past the first two minutes but don’t make it to the end, Netflix will still trumpet it as a view.
The one good thing that came out of Thunder Force is the knowledge that McCarthy and Bateman still make a strong on-screen pairing, but we deserve to see them work their magic together again in a movie made by someone else and without the crab pincers.
Paul Feig, are you busy right now?
Thunder Force is streaming now on Netflix
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