There have been some great comedy teams in the history of show business, but the number of married couples who created comedy magic together is vanishingly small. Of those who succeeded, like Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft or Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, each arguably had his or her greatest success while doing work separate from their spouse.
Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, who’ve been married since 2005, have gone all-in on both a personal and professional partnership, making five movies since 2014 starring McCarthy, directed by Falcone, and produced by both. And yet not one of them, including the new Netflix movie Thunder Force, is even halfway decent, making you wonder if they’d be better off concentrating on projects apart from each other.
Thunder Force finds McCarthy starring as Lydia, whose best days never were and who seems to still be longing for the late ’80s/early ’90s. Her best friend from school, Emily (Octavia Spencer), is a genius who has devoted her life to continuing her parents’ work of developing a serum to turn regular people into superheroes, something that is needed to fight evil people called Miscreants who were transformed by errant cosmic rays.
Naturally, the bumbling Lydia accidentally gets herself injected with a super strength serum, forcing Emily to adjust her well-laid plans and become super herself by ingesting invisibility pills. Soon, the duo, with the help of Emily’s equally brainy daughter, Tracy (Taylor Mosby), are using their newfound skills to battle villains like Laser (Pom Klementieff), The Crab (Jason Bateman), and The King (Bobby Cannavale).
The film, which is also written by Falcone, has plenty of opportunities to take advantage of its outrageous premise, but manages to whiff on almost all of them. Lydia and Emily are set up to be an odd couple pairing, but whether because of a lack of comedic chemistry or stale jokes, they never click. Likewise, Falcone and McCarthy can’t seem to decide whether to make the duo’s action scenes exciting or funny, and they settle in a zone somewhere in the middle that achieves neither goal.
Their hesitancy on what strategy to employ is best understood through the film’s lone bright point, the character of The Crab. A villain whose lone “power” is having two crab claws as arms, he’s ridiculous and hilarious in every scene in which he shows up, aided in great part by Bateman’s wry performance. Had the filmmakers gone that route with the rest of the characters and situations, it might have ended up in a better place.
McCarthy’s bread-and-butter is playing oddball, somewhat dimwitted characters, but while she has a handful of funny moments, her performance here mostly doesn’t work. Spencer’s Emily is supposed to be the “straight man” to Lydia, but the character winds up being just dull instead of droll. Both are outshone by Mosby, who has a real brightness about her. On the opposite end is Melissa Leo, an Oscar winner who is way out of place as Emily’s intelligence chief/security detail.
The idea for Thunder Force is objectively a solid one, but the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s yet another dismal output from the creative partnership of McCarthy and Falcone, making one wonder when they’ll give up the ghost and decide they’re better off creating projects separately.
Thunder Force is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.