Friday, July 4, 2014

Tammy: Rude, crude and booed

Tammy (2014) • View trailer 
One star. Rated R, for profanity and sexual candor

By Derrick Bang

Melissa McCarthy’s vulgar fat slob shtick is wearing very thin.

Believing that she needs some quick cash in order to help with her grandmother's impending
medical bills, Tammy (Melissa McCarthy, right) dons a minimal "disguise" and holds up a
fast-food joint ... with a "weapon" that's no more than her pointing fingers in a papr bag.
Yep, that's the level of humor in this bomb.
Tammy isn’t even a rough approximation of a film; it’s merely a series of disconnected scenes and encounters, clumsily stitched together in a limp effort at storytelling. McCarthy charges through the resulting mess like a bull in a china shop, as if daring us not to find her so-called antics funny.

I’ll take that dare, Melissa. You’re not funny.

Neither is your film.

Well, wait ... in fairness, I did laugh once, at a quick shot involving a raccoon and a doughnut. McCarthy had nothing to do with it.

I find it completely bewildering that an actress of McCarthy’s talent and timing, having established her comic chops with TV’s Mike & Molly (winning an Emmy) and the big screen’s Bridesmaids (Oscar nomination), would debase herself with material this puerile, sloppy and slapdash. I’m inclined to believe that even the Three Stooges would have rejected this script as beneath them.

Hollywood actresses have long struggled to achieve a level of equality, credibility and respect akin to their male co-stars ... and this is the path to success? Is demonstrating an ability to out-gross Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow and Farrelly brothers comedies really a sign of progress?

If so, that’s pretty sad.

McCarthy has nobody to blame but herself, since she shares scripting credit — if such a term even applies — with off-camera husband Ben Falcone, who also makes his directorial debut with this train wreck.

Note to Ben: Don’t lose your day job.

Falcone makes every rookie mistake in the book, starting with his tendency to frame his wife in tight close-ups, so that we can count every sweaty pore. And he clearly didn’t “direct” McCarthy in any sense of the word; he simply points the camera and waits while she stumbles and bumbles through whatever she concocts from thin air. Which ain’t much.

McCarthy plays — she doesn’t deserve the phrase “stars as” — Tammy Banks, an unkempt ne'er-do-well who clearly never made the acquaintance of a comb. Or a shower. In the space of a few hours one morning, she loses her car, her job and her husband. The job is a depressing shift at a McDonald’s-style fast-food joint dubbed Topper Jack’s; the husband, Greg (Nat Faxon), has the good taste to get caught having an affair with a next-door neighbor (Toni Collette, unable to work up any enthusiasm for this supporting role).

Right from the top, with these introductory scenes, the film comes apart. Tammy wrecks her car by hitting a deer; the resulting close encounter between McCarthy and this injured animal is played for laughs that never come. The subsequent confrontation with Greg and Missi is a complete non-sequitur; it’s impossible to work up any interest in “cheating” characters we’ve never met ... just as it’s impossible to imagine that Greg ever would have married Tammy in the first place.

Convinced that her Midwestern small town no longer holds any appeal, Tammy decides to hit the road in search of ... whatever. That’s a bit tough, lacking a car, and her mother (Allison Janney, utterly useless) isn’t about to lend her one. Happily (?), Grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon) is more agreeable, all of which spells r-o-a-d t-r-i-p.

Hijinks ensue, along with plenty of bickering between Tammy and Pearl, who don’t seem to like each other very much. Except when they love each other devotedly. Because the script insists that they claim as much, every 15 minutes or so.

Minor escapades are punctuated by several larger adventures, the first involving a randy old-timer named Earl (Gary Cole) and his unexpectedly kind and sensitive son, Bobby (Mark Duplass). Earl and Pearl can’t wait to get into each other’s pants, the latter often proudly boasting that she slept with Duane Allman, back in the day. (“The wrong Allman brother,” Tammy sniffs, contemptuously.)

Earl and Pearl behave in a thoroughly contemptible manner, mistreating Tammy to a degree intended to make us feel sorry for her: a sequence that perfectly captures the film’s inept effort to blend so-called comedy with so-called pathos. Needless to say, McCarthy’s Tammy is no more successful as an abused misfit, than she is as a potty-mouthed misanthrope.

Somewhat later, Tammy and Pearl wind up as guests of the latter’s fun-loving cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates), a latter-day hippie defined mostly by her lesbian relationship with Susanne (Sandra Oh). McCarthy and Falcone apparently decided that actual characterization is entirely superfluous.

That said, Bates, Oh and Duplass do seem to have wandered in from some other film (and a much better one). All three deliver reasonably interesting performances despite Falcone’s hammer-handed efforts; indeed, we actually grow to like Bobby, and look forward to seeing him reappear, as the narrative lurches fitfully forward.

Unfortunately, that minor bit of good will is sabotaged by a “serious” plot hiccup involving Pearl’s chronic alcoholism, and her failure to manage her diabetes: a lapse of judgment characterized by her dangerously bloated and discolored feet and ankles. To say that this is a) a total downer, and b) a catastrophic blunder in terms of tone, surely ranks as the summer’s biggest understatement.

Sarandon makes the most of this ill-health sidebar, just as she tries gamely to wring some degree of feisty humor from her often malicious dialogue.

Honestly, I can’t imagine what we’re supposed to make of this ghastly excuse for a movie. Alcoholism and diabetes sure as hell aren’t funny; neither are Tammy’s constant petulance and crude commentary. Efforts to deliver a gentler tone — mostly involving Duplass’ Bobby — are equally unsuccessful.

On top of which, Falcone and editor Michael L. Sale have no sense of pacing; this 96-minute turkey is a dull, dreary, utterly boring slog.

It also appears to be a self-serving vanity project by McCarthy and Falcone, given the impressively long list of (I’m guessing here) friends and colleagues who pop up in uncredited, eye-blink appearances. The wrap party must’ve been something ... and, no doubt, far more entertaining than the movie itself.

McCarthy is powerful enough, right now, to have gotten pretty much any project off the ground. (The fact that anybody at Warner Bros. okayed this turkey pretty much proves the point.) That she chose to unleash this bomb, essentially raising her middle finger toward the fans who’ve followed her thus far, is both reprehensible and shameful.

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