Can Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone just stop working together? It’s not that their films together just aren’t very good (Superintelligence, Life of the Party, The Boss, Tammy); it’s that they’re actively, offensively horrible. And the thing is, I adore McCarthy as a comedic powerhouse, and she’s a terrific actor on top of that. But in her films that Falcone has written and/or directed (he does both for their latest Thunder Force), she seems almost embarrassed as we watch her flail and repeat gags she’s done in a half-dozen other movies just to save whatever underwritten scene she happens to be in. Frankly, it’s exhausting to watch her work that hard and still come up with zero laughs.
Thunder Force takes place in a world where a tiny percentage of humans have been gifted with superpowers, but unfortunately all of them are psychotic (now called “Miscreants”), wishing nothing but destruction on the world. As this new world order is taking shape, two little girls, Lydia and Emily, become friends in elementary school. Lydia likes to play and have fun, while Emily spends her life devoted to studying and eventually becoming smart enough to design a treatment by which non-Miscreants can gain their own powers, so innocent humans have defenders who can fight these villains on equal ground. The two have a falling out in high school, and eventually grow up to become Melissa McCarthy (Lydia, now a forklift operator) and Octavia Spencer (Emily, now the CEO of a massive science-based company, working on said treatments).
Lydia goes to visit Emily in her lab, in hopes of dragging her to a nearby high school reunion party at Murphy’s Bleachers near Wrigley Field (oh, did I not mention this all takes place in Chicago, even though a great deal of it was clearly shot in Atlanta?). Naturally, the two don’t have much to talk about, and because no character McCarthy has ever played can do anything but touch every shiny object like an infant, she somehow gets herself injected with Emily’s serum that will eventually give her super strength. Emily herself also begins a treatment that will make her invisible (very useful), so the two decide to train to handle these powers and take on the Miscreants that are plaguing the city, led by a particularly destructive villain named Laser (Pom Klementieff from Guardians of the Galaxy).
Because this is set in Chicago, there’s a mayoral election happening, pitting an AOC-style female candidate against Bobby Cannavale’s “The King” (a nickname that would give anyone pause, but not in Chicago), who it turns out is a Miscreant himself, using Laser and another henchman, The Crab (Jason Bateman, with crab arms), to terrorize the city while he promises to end the Miscreant’s reign of destruction. For as bad as Thunder Force is, Bateman’s take on The Crab is actually a case study in underplaying a bad guy role, which I’m sure he is doing on his own with no guidance from director Falcone.
With supporting performances from Taylor Mosby (as Emily’s super-smart teen daughter Tracy, who helps run the business), Melissa Leo (as Allie, Emily’s head of security), and Kevin Dunn (as Lydia’s friend and local diner owner Frank) that are largely wasted, the film drags on from the naming of the team, to how smelly their costumes can get, to a potential romance between Lydia and The Crab, with very few jokes actually landing anywhere near funny territory. There’s a running gag about the music of Glenn Frey that made me chuckle a couple times, but any chance of laughter is quickly squashed by Cannavale overplaying the corrupt politician or Spencer’s earnestness, which eliminates any sense of fun the film gets up to.
In a weak attempt to cash in on the ever-popular superhero trend, McCarthy and Falcone have birthed another dud in Thunder Force. I am very much over watching McCarthy play characters who stumble their way through life, because I know she’s capable of so much more. I wish I could say the same for Falcone.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.
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