REVIEW: Melissa McCarthy oversells slapstick, bawdiness with ‘The Boss’

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There’s no shortage of stories that hinge on regurgitating the line from Matthew 16:26: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

This image released by Universal Studios shows Melissa McCarthy in a scene from, "The Boss." (Hopper Stone/Universal Studios via AP)
This image released by Universal Studios shows Melissa McCarthy in a scene from, “The Boss.” (Hopper Stone/Universal Studios via AP)

So when you see Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) parading onto an arena stage, rapping and dancing as a Suze Orman-esque, biz-philosophy-spewing titan, you won’t be surprised that such ostentation will crash and burn.

What no one really expects, though, is that “The Boss” — directed by Ben Falcone and co-written by Falcone, McCarthy and Steve Mallory — represents something of an Icarus fable for the otherwise respectable career of the world’s most-popular comedienne.

“The Boss” is an excellent way to stage McCarthy as an antiheroine slowing coming to grips with the need and desire for redemption after a career of corporate raiderism and ignoring the lives of her most-dedicated underlings, especially single mom Claire (Kristen Bell, who does solid work as the straight man to McCarthy). And the plot of Michelle starting her own girl scout group just to sell brownies to the masses is original enough to enliven an otherwise predictable story arc.

But it’s fair to say that the mostly uninspired physical comedy that comes along with Michelle trying to rebuild her life and finances after a prison stint leaves her busted equates to McCarthy and Falcone approaching the project with the same kind of let-nothing-stand-in-your-way bullheadedness that Michelle espouses.

A set of stairs at a country club? You know damn well she’s falling down them face first. An old sofa bed she’s forced to crash on after leaving jail? Your mind’s eye can see her being flung against the wall before the movie even sets it up.

McCarthy, left to her own devices, seemingly has not found the pratfall she won’t do. She’s excellent in pulling them off and getting the easy laughs, but it’s terribly unfulfilling. At the same time, the film doesn’t seem to trust the audience to be along with the genuinely funny and original bits, such as McCarthy doing an entire scene of dialogue with her mouth propped open for teeth whitening.

Perhaps the only actor who seems to have found the right comedic vein for this story is Peter Dinklage, who plays Michelle’s former love turned business rival. He nails the campiness needed, whereas everyone’s tone is more akin to the exploded entrails of an Adam Sandler film bouncing around a minefield of F-bombs and oral sex Jokes (If you didn’t notice already, “The Boss” is rated R — don’t bring your Brownie troop).

Few actresses not named Amy Schumer get to play anything this bawdy and foul-mouthed, and it’s refreshing that someone of McCarthy’s talents takes it on. But “The Boss” feels like it’s just an exercise of that liberty rather than legitimate entertainment. When the novelty of Michelle’s sailor-tongued dialogue and slapstick wears off, the film works ever so briefly: A turf war between girl scouts cribbed in part from “Anchorman” and a zany sword fight between McCarthy and Dinklage are the brand of zaniness needed to pull of good farce.

But those moments were not enough to hold my interest. Even the preview audience I was with seemed to nod off up until one of Darnell’s brownie-slingers makes a sale at a pot shop, yielding the biggest reaction of the entire film.

The rest of the cast — especially minor roles from Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal and Cecily Strong — are superbly cast, but they do little to disrupt the numbingly profane proceedings.

But just like Michelle Darnell, you have to figure Melissa McCarthy can come back from this. See you at “Ghostbusters” in three months.

“The Boss” is rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use. One hour, 39 minutes. One and a half stars out of five.