The Boss

(2016) * 1/2 R
99 min. Universal Studios. Director: Ben Falcone. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage.

/content/films/4934/1.jpgPee-Wee Herman. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The Roxbury Guys. Pat. The Target Lady. These are but a few of the characters developed at L.A.'s storied improv/sketch-comedy theater The Groundlings. Add to the list Melissa McCarthy's business whiz Michelle Darnell. More than a decade from Darnell's stage debut, McCarthy and fellow Groundlings alums Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory have spun Darnell off into a feature film, with unforunately wan results. To watch the film is to intuit the wrongheadedness of the film's approach, but now—with a Blu-ray bonus feature allowing comparison of the film's narrative to the character's sketch origins—it's easier to diagnose what went wrong.

The stage shtick McCarthy developed around Darnell combined the best of scripted, practiced patter with a quick, loose interactive spontaneity that allowed the audience to feel they were participating in a real seminar with the character. Obviously a feature film doesn't allow for audience participation, but it needn't be as conventional and airless as The Boss. The film, directed by Falcone, immediately missteps with one of those needlessly expensive scenes that comes right out of the studio playbook. Make it visual! Make it flashy! And so we meet Darnell—identified as "the CEO of three Fortune 500 companies and the bestselling financial author of 'Money Talks, Bullshit Walks'"—in the context of a ludicrous stage show more akin to a Beyonce concert than a motivational financial lecture. Leona Helmsley and Suze Orman (with a dash of Oprah) inspired Darnell, with their bold fashion choices and strident, you'd-better-take-this advice, but not even Oprah would go so far as a stage show with a blinding light show and a production number with T-Pain. Yes, comedy feeds on exaggeration, but needlessly starting out on such a false, bombastic note emblematizes the film's mistake of blowing up the character past what made her recognizable, and thereby funny, in the first place.

At least Darnell's funny costume remains consistent: she sports starchy turtlenecks that makes her neck disappear. The screenwriters build an obvious, conventional plot around the character, as the 47th wealthiest woman in America takes a tragicomic fall from grace when she's jailed for insider trading and fraud (upside: she discovers how the other half lives, including the small wonder known as a "Dor-i-to"). With no friends or family to lean on, Michelle begs room and board from the former assistant she habitually mistreated, Claire Rawlings (Kristen Bell). Though understandably hesistant, Claire relents because of her good nature and the encouragement of her young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), who views Michelle in a sympathetic light and develops a conspiratorial relationship with her lax new babysitter. Claire languishes at a new job in an office the film frequents (where she has a romantic interest in a co-worker played by Tyler Labine) when not escorting Rachel to her (don't-sue) Not-the-Girl-Scouts meetings.

Naturally, Claire is an expert cookie baker (like Andie MacDowell in The Muse), prompting Darnell to railroad her new host into a lopsided business partnership to breakaway and sell their own cookies at a high profit margin via an army, "Darnell's Darlings," that's akin to slave labor. The rest of the movie essentially writes itself, with its seemingly endless contrasts of little girls and foulmouthed, violent antics coached by the ruthless Darnell. Michelle's "sketchy" backstory includes superficial relationships with a former mentor (Kathy Bates) and a current nemesis (Peter Dinklage), a former flame with whom Michelle shares sexual heat. The film's tired third act finds Michelle leading a heist into the corporate tower of Dinklage's "Renault" (a pretentious rebranding of "Ron" from Jersey), where The Boss ends even further from reality than it began: with a samurai-style stunt extravaganza. Wildly outsized comedic set pieces can work, of course (Dan Aykroyd, for one, used to be pretty good at that sort of thing), but McCarthy's comic chops aside, The Boss' flimsy foundation and scant laughs yield only disappointing earnings.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 7/26/2016

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal's Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD special edition of The Boss offers up two cuts of the film via seamless branching: the Theatrical Version and an Unrated Version that runs approximately six minutes longer. A/V specs are commendable, ably bringing home the theatrical experience with a clean, stable picture and a sturdy lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The image does particularly well in its eye-catching and faithful color, and if the picture lacks a bit in detail and contrast, it's not enough to detract for anyone but the most unforgiving of home-theater aficionados: the overall visual impression is typically inviting of a comedy film. Sound doesn't put many demands on the disc, but music comes through energetically and the dialogue is never less than clear at the front of the mix.

Bonus features are significant, offering the bonus footage and gag reel customary of a comedy release. For starters, there's the "Alternate Ending - Falcon Rangers" (2:00, HD); ten "Deleted Scenes" (14:10, HD with "Play All" option) including "Convention Center Opening," "White Sox," "Claire Gets Hired at Her New Job," "Claire Plays Chess with Rachel," "Darnell Enterprises Building Lobby," "Walking to Dandelion Meeting," "Hallway Prior to Dandelion Meeting," "Michelle Plays Chess with Rachel," "Michelle Visits Tito" and "Helipad Epilogue"; Seven "Extended/Alternate Scenes" (16:15, HD) comprising "Bed Flip Scene Alternate," "Carrot Top," "They Do Look Moist," "Kendo," "Michelle Returns the Key," "Security Guard - Extended" and "Breaking into Renault's - Extended"; and the "Gag Reel" (3:54, HD).

Those features appear also on the DVD, while the Blu-ray houses exclusive bonus features. These include the all-important "Michelle Darnell - Original Sketch" (7:25, HD) from 2005, recorded at the Groundlings Theater; the featurette "Origin Story" (7:16, HD), which digs into the project's inception at The Groundlings and with that theater's writer-performers Ben Falcone, Damon Jones, Annie Mumalo, Michael McDonald, Larry Dorf, Steve Mallory (all of whom appear in the film); and the behind-the-scenes segments "Peter Dinklage Gets to the Point" (8:41, HD), with an added focus on the filming of the stunt-laden climax, and the self-explanatory talking-heads-heavy "Everybody Loves Kristin Bell" (6:50, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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