Melissa McCarthy and her husband, filmmaker Ben Falcone, have managed to put out not one but two movies during this global pandemic. It prompts two questions: What did we do to deserve them? And how do we stop it?
McCarthy enlists — and immediately wastes — the services of Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer for the superhero buddy comedy “Thunder Force,” a meandering nothingburger of a film.
It’s the fifth team-up between McCarthy and Falcone — they previously did “The Boss,” “Tammy,” “Life of the Party” and “Superintelligence.” It’s clear they’ve gotten progressively worse and McCarthy’s welcome manic, anarchic energy is no longer disarming.
This time around, McCarthy and Spencer play two middle-aged friends who become superheroes after one invents a formula that gives ordinary people superpowers. We’d settle for a formula that makes this film work.
This premise offers the filmmakers the chance to send-up superhero films, but “Thunder Force” mostly just apes them with alarming slackness. It’s corny when it needs to be edgy and stupid when it needs to be clever.
The movie starts in the 1980s as we are introduced to the two girls in high school — Emily is smart and sensible, while Lydia is messy and impulsive. (McCarthy and Falcone’s own daughter, Vivian, plays a younger McCarthy). Emily wants to grow up an be a geneticist. A “lady part doctor?” asks Lydia. Emily responds: “That’s a gynecologist.”
Flash forward to the two as adults. Emily has become a tech millionaire and Lydia a beer-swilling loser still wearing hair-band T-shirts and drinking expired milk.
In this alternative universe, mysterious cosmic rays have turned some humans into super criminals called Miscreants, led by a slumming Bobby Cannavale. Emily vows to stop them by creating her own superhero juice that will offer super strength and invisibility. Unfortunately Lydia accidently gets the strength formula.
Cue the montage of McCarthey’s Lydia lifting 20,000 pounds, making 14-foot vertical jumps and pulling a tractor-trailer. Together, Emily and Lydia are Thunder Force. “Let’s get swole and kick some Miscreant butt,” McCartney says.
Along the way, such bizarre and genuinely funny bits are offered about Glenn Frey, Urkel, Jodi Foster, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” and Seal. And Jason Bateman, McCarthy’s “Identity Thief” co-star, plays a Miscreant with crab claws for arms and is so consistently funny that you’ll wish he had his own film. “What’s his power? Tasting delicious with melted butter?” McCarthy jokes.
This film was in the can before the death of George Floyd and there are a few sour notes, as when a goon is excessively tasered until his skin burns while Emily asks a bystander not to film it on his phone. (“Oh, that’s messed up,” says the store clerk. You bet.) And having a Black woman with the skill of turning invisible in 2021 comes off as a sour note.
But to have two middle-aged, actors scrap with bad guys is a treat, even if scenes of them huffing and puffing as they squeeze into a tiny purple Lamborghini is played for laughs a little too long.
There’s also the theme of two women who are complete opposites somehow managing to compliment each other and learning to appreciate what the other offers to their friendship.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I’m mad at you because you always go crazy or if I’m really just mad at myself because I never do,” says Spencer’s Emily.
But that’s just putting makeup on a crustacean: The trailer for the film is way better than sitting through it. It’s a tedious mess to endure and seemed like way more fun making than watching.
“Thunder Force,” a Netflix release, is rated PG-13 for some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material. Running time: 107 minutes. Half a star out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.