Melissa McCarthy’s collaborations with writer-director and husband Ben Falcone have been pretty brutal. Falcone has directed McCarthy in four previous movies. Of those, 2018’s abysmal “Life of the Party” has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score at 38%. Yes I know, review aggregators aren’t infallible and they don’t always represent the quality of a movie. I hate to say it, but in this case they’re pretty spot-on.
The duo give it another shot with “Thunder Force”, a wacky superhero comedy once again written and directed by Falcone and starring McCarthy. This time they’re joined by co-star Octavia Spencer who never seems completely comfortable with her character. Neither of the actresses can bring any sizzle to this fairly one-note comedy that languishes at one speed and struggles to deliver anything more than a couple of passing giggles.
In terms of setup (not that it matters much), a massive pulse of interstellar cosmic rays struck the earth in 1983 triggering a genetic transformation in a select few of the planet’s population, imbuing them with a range of superpowers. As (bad) luck would have it and for reasons not even remotely explained, these abilities only unlocked for budding sociopaths who became known as Miscreants. So basically it’s a world with villains but no superheroes.
Enter Lydia (McCarthy) and Emily (Spencer), childhood best friends who grew apart after a spat way back in high school. Lydia is an odd one – socially awkward, klutzy, and aggressively unrefined. Basically she’s a typical Melissa McCarthy character. These days she’s a machine operator at a Chicago shipping yard. Emily is given a little more depth. She’s the bookish and brilliant daughter of two geneticists who were working on a formula that would give regular people superpowers to fight back against the Miscreants. Her parents were killed during some Miscreant mayhem while Emily was still a child and she vowed to one day finish their work. Now she’s a scientist who owns her own lab in Chicago and works tirelessly to perfect her parents’ formula.
Lydia attempts to reconnect with Emily by paying a visit to her lab. Hijinks ensue resulting in Lydia being inadvertently injected with Emily’s super-strength formula. But the effects aren’t instantaneous which leads to a series of silly training scenes as Lydia learns how to control her new super-human power. Meanwhile Emily begins treatment of her own which grants her the ability to turn invisible. And just like that Thunder Force is born, the world’s first superhero team. They immediately run afoul of a shady mayoral candidate played by Bobby Cannavale and his goons, a gnarly Miscreant named Laser (Pom Klementieff) and Jason Bateman with crab pincers for arms (yep, you read that right).
Considering the absurdity of all you just read, you would think the movie would at least have some energy. But neither the story or McCarthy’s act ever gets above room temperature and both eventually run out of gas. The actress does give us an occasional amusing line or a physical gag that semi-lands, but essentially she’s stuck in the same gear for the entire film. Even Bateman, whose signature dry humor is a perfect fit for such an oddball character, is hampered by dull and uninspired material. Character-wise the one saving grace is Taylor Mosby who plays Emily’s daughter Tracy. She isn’t given tons to do, but at least she provides someone the audience can relate to.
As I mine for something positive to say I’ll leave you with this – if McCarthy and Falcone’s other movies have worked for you in the past you might find some entertainment here as well. But if not, don’t expect “Thunder Force” to change that trend. And other than die-hard McCarthy fans, it’s hard to figure out who this movie is aimed at. It’s a little too crass to be a kids movie, too puerile for adults. The one thing I’m sure of is that it wasn’t for me. “Thunder Force” premieres today (April 9th) on Netflix.
VERDICT – 1.5 STARS