'Thunder Force' Is a Super-Bore Directed by Ben Falcone
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale, Pom Klementieff
Published Apr 09, 2021In 2016 a Washington Post review of The Boss posited that "Melissa McCarthy's worst movies have something in common: her husband." At that point, McCarthy and her writer/director/actor spouse Ben Falcone had only collaborated on two films. A few years later, Thunder Force is the couple's fifth collaborative effort, and that damning insight stays accurate as ever.
Like The Boss, Tammy and Life of the Party, Thunder Force is a vehicle for McCarthy to riff and vamp around in a half-assed kind of way. As Lydia, a blathering, beer-swilling, Van Halen-loving forklift driver, she's just hanging out in life, longing for the connection of former best friend Emily (Octavia Spencer), an ambitious geneticist who cut slacker Lydia out of her life to focus on her mission: developing the means of making ordinary people superheroes. This is in response to the rise of a race of genetically modified, sociopathic beings called Miscreants, who rage around the city blowing up buildings and knocking off liquor stores. At least, this is what we're told — by the credits, the movie only offers up two Miscreant characters. This kind of patched-together cheapness of premise and delivery prevails throughout.
Deciding to seek Emily out, Lydia surprises her old pal at her super-lab and tipsily doses herself with a super-serum. Inevitably, clumsily, the pair have no choice but to split the superpowers between them and team up to fight the Miscreants. The training montage — which is one repeated joke of McCarthy pratfalling and peacocking — lasts a bewildering 12 minutes. Spencer and McCarthy have zero chemistry as supposed old pals (Spencer seems struggling to stay awake at times) and rely on belting out '80s music together to simulate bonding. The dialogue is as uninteresting as their powers of super-strength and invisibility — Emily's invisibility is so badly utilized that she relies on a taser rather than stealth to bring down villains.
As the Thunder Force team embarks on missions, the film stumbles on its one endearing subplot: the arrival of Jason Bateman as a hired thug Jerry, a half-Miscreant with crab arms. He and McCarthy have instant sexy chemistry between them, which blossoms into a surrealist dance sequence complete with mullets, jumpsuits and pincer choreography. Bateman is much more interestingly loose as an actor when he isn't the put-upon straight man, and McCarthy doesn't get enough credit for her capable and charismatic handling of love stories, even silly ones like this. Unfortunately, this cute dynamic is thrust aside in favour of more forgettable plot: Bobby Cannavale plays a secretly evil mayoral candidate in league with the Miscreants, blah blah blah. With a script this weightless, none of it matters.
While McCarthy remains a great comedic talent, movies like this showcase none of it. After such a meteoric rise, her character choices are starting to make her career resemble the trajectory of Will Ferrell's; initially joyous and chaotic, descending into forgettable one-note performances that seem to rely on being the loudest bitch at the picnic. Thunder Force may not be the worst of the Falcone/McCarthy efforts, but it is still very, very bad. Skip it. (Netflix)