'Tammy': Another slapstick role for McCarthy

Posted: July 03, 2014

SOME NUMBERS to consider: $159 million, $134 million, $169 million.

Those are the domestic box-office hauls of the last three movies ("The Heat," "Identity Thief" and "Bridesmaids") with substantial starring roles for Melissa McCarthy, so far be it from me to tell this woman how to go about her lucrative business.

Of the "Bridesmaids" ladies, it's McCarthy who's gone on to be the breakout star. She's a screen natural with a vivid and unpredictable comic presence who is usually paired, for effect, with a straight-laced partner.

You see that formula right away in "Tammy" - McCarthy as a fast-food worker about to lose her job, getting in the face of the uptight, rule-obsessed boss, hitting him in the face with ketchup packets, denouncing the food in front of the customers, walking off the scene with laughs trailing behind her.

McCarthy could keep doing this forever, but you wonder if she should. You can already see the danger of a sort of Sandler-ism creeping in - the petrification that takes hold when a comic stops taking risks.

"Tammy" is a little too happy to settle for the easy gag - McCarthy giving mouth-to-mouth to a deer, crashing a Jet Ski. It conflicts with the movie's intent (it's written and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone) to broaden McCarthy's range a bit - positioning her as a romantic lead, for instance.

As Tammy, McCarthy is a woman who loses her job and husband on the same day, then embarks impulsively on a Midwestern road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon). They hook up with a couple of men (Gary Cole, Mark Duplass), and rendezvous with relatives (Kathy Bates).

McCarthy clashes with grandma, and makes time with her potential boyfriend. It would be nice to say that sparks fly, but Duplass, a refugee from indie film, looks deeply uncomfortable in this role.

"Tammy," when it's not getting slapstick laughs, seems not to know what kind of movie it is. It doesn't really take the romance seriously, nor does it know what to do with grandma's purported alcoholism - both point to a dramatic depth the movie can't, or won't, support.

Still, it understands McCarthy, and the way audiences have cottoned to her persona: the disaster-prone woman who gamely soldiers on.

Another Gary Thompson review: "Snowpiercer."

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