Whatever one’s enjoyment level for the polarizing comic actor Melissa McCarthy, “Tammy” represents a bountiful harvest of talking points for naysayers and a DOA movie her most ardent fans will have to shrug off as just one of those things.
Nothing goes right here from the opening moments to a dragged out finale, where McCarthy’s perennially slovenly, aggressively obnoxious and habitually foul-mouthed character finally learns the many errors of her ways.
While any number of vehicles get totaled or deliberately destroyed in the course of this tiresome road movie, the real question is: Is this a train wreck for the comedienne or a mere dump in the road?
A Fourth of July opening weekend may ring up big numbers as loyal fans turn out, but they’ll be challenged to find much mirth in this nearly laugh-free “comedy.”
About the only thing redeeming here is the unlikely presence of 67-year-old Susan Sarandon as 43-year-old McCarthy’s alcoholic grandmother. Sarandon at least shows you can be a sloppy drunk on screen without sacrificing your soul as an actor.
There seems to have been two impulses at work here for McCarthy: One is to take greater control of her career by keeping creative decisions in-house as it were: This is her first feature outing as producer-writer-star. Meanwhile her co-writer and director is Ben Falcone, her husband.
Yet her other and nearly contrary impulse is to admit she needs a little help from her friends: She surrounds herself with a huge supporting cast of old pros.
Along with Sarandon roles of surprisingly little depth or complexity are played by Kathy Bates, Allison Janny, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass, Tony Collette, Sandra Oh and Gary Cole. Plus she has brought aboard top-flight executive talent for her team of producers and exec producers that includes even Will Ferrell.
Did none of these extremely talented people not see how pathetic the story was, mostly a loose collection of skits without any comic point or purpose?
Her character invites little empathy since she is the engineer of her own calamities. Losing her car, job and husband all in the same day, McCarthy’s Tammy will take any kind of transportation to get out of her redneck town even a car belonging to her grandmother Pearl (Sarandon), with Pearl, a diabetic drunk, attached as traveling companion.
The destination isn’t important — it’s Niagara Falls — since with a penchant for running stop signs and crashing vehicles Tammy isn’t going to get very far. The two manage Louisville where grandma picks up and has a backseat shag with a hot senior citizen (Cole) while the man’s son (Duplass) chats with Tammy outside the car.
After crashing a Jet Ski and generally wrecking havoc wherever she goes, the twosome wind up on the lam from the law and hiding out with Pearl’s cousin Lenore (Bates) and her partner (Oh), who are throwing a huge lesbian Fourth of July lakeside party.
McCarthy and Falcone’s script belabors every situation, looking for physical gags or verbal humor yet finding none. It’s often unclear even what they think is supposed to be funny. Tammy’s reactions to just about everything is to throw objects at people or knock things on the floor.
The great clowns from Buster Keaton to W.C. Fields and John Candy were always precise in their actions. They built gags with care and detail; they thought everything through.
McCarthy here never goes beyond acts of inchoate anger and inarticulate rage at all the misfortune reigning down on her. How is that funny?
“Tammy” is a dull, dispiriting mess in which the main characters supposedly emerge wiser for their experiences but you can’t see how or why.
Lenore does give Tammy a dressing down late in the third act which essentially brings up everything an audience has been thinking: With her childish behavior and purposeless tantrums, Tammy is the architect of her own doom.
You just wish Lenore had told her this at the ten-minute mark. And given her a road map to Niagara Falls.
Opens: July 2, 2014 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: New Line Cinema, Gary Sanchez/On the Day Productions
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Nat Faxon, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Ben Falcone
Director: Ben Falcone
Screenwriters: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone
Producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Melissa McCarthy
Executive producers: Rob Cowan, Ben Falcone, Chris Henchy, Kevin Messick, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Michael Disco
Director of photography: Russ Alsobrook
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Music: Michael Andrews
Costume designer: Wendy Chuck
Editor: Mike Sale
R rating, 96 minutes