'Tammy': Film Review

Melissa McCarthy takes an unintended pratfall.

Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon star in the Ben Falcone-directed road-trip comedy with Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Duplass, Nat Faxon and Toni Collette.

Several motor vehicles get totaled or badly damaged in the potholed and perilous Tammy, which prompts analogous speculation as to whether this first feature outing as producer-writer-star for the normally hilarious Melissa McCarthy represents a major career wreck or just a quick moment in a ditch. Just as it was no fun being stuck in a small car on a road trip with Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip two years back, so is it stifling to endure the same with another actress with a large shtick here; perhaps performers with such big personalities shouldn’t remain confined to such cramped quarters. McCarthy’s legion of fans will likely sign on initially for her first film since last summer’s girl-cop comic smash The Heat, but this one’s legs will be short.

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The star plays the same aggressive, foul-mouthed, working-class slob she’s mined for comic gold in previous outings, but you can tell from the outset that something’s off; when she tells off the burger joint boss (director Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and the script’s co-writer) who’s just fired her, cursing and throwing things at him and contaminating kitchen produce, what’s been funny for her before no longer is. Nor is it amusing when she explodes upon returning home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) having dinner with another woman (Toni Collette), nor when she erupts at her mother for not giving her a car and then drives off with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon).

And hold on there — McCarthy, who’s 43, has a mom, played by Allison Janney, who’s 54, and a grandma, portrayed by Sarandon, who’s 67? Even at the early ages at which women were once-upon-a-time known to give birth in the South, this is more than a bit beyond the pale. Especially when Grandma Pearl is still not only hot enough but hot-to-trot enough to provoke a randy gent, Earl (Gary Cole), in a Louisville barbecue joint to pick her up and have hanky-panky in the back seat of her car while the man’s ineffectual son Bobby (Mark Duplass) and Tammy chat in sight just outside the back window.

Presumably, we’re supposed to see the source of Tammy’s inherited bad behavior in Pearl, who confesses to having slept with the "wrong" Allman Brother as well as having made a pass at Tammy’s own dad. But however hard Sarandon tries to trash herself down, neither she nor Janney is a remotely plausible genetic contributor to the waddling disaster zone that is Tammy. Where are Marie Dressler and Shelley Winters when you need them?

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Tammy messes up time and time again. She crashes Pearl’s Jet Ski, holds up a different outlet of her old burger chain wearing a paper bag on her head in a laugh-free sequence and eventually gets thrown in the clink for further vehicular destruction. Tammy comes out indisputably older and allegedly wiser, prompting a personality change that suggests that even a soul as seemingly unsalvageable as Tammy’s can be saved, just as Pearl can be made to stop drinking, thereby getting her diabetes under control and reducing the circumference of her ankles by two-thirds.

In its final third, the film makes a detour to take in a huge lesbian Fourth of July party thrown by Pearl’s cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates in bon vivant form) and her partner (Sandra Oh). It’s an all-female affair except for the unlikely appearances of Earl and Bobby, with the latter being proposed as a good prospect for Tammy despite the fact that he’s terminally dim and doormattish.

So the film progresses from merely unfunny to unconvincing to dull. It’s a waste of a good cast as well as a serious trip wire for McCarthy, who may know what’s best for her talents but, on the evidence, needs a deft-handed outsider to make sure she’s maximizing them.

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
Costume designer: Wendy Chuck
Editor: Mike Sale
Music: Michael Andrews

Rated R, 96 minutes