Movie review: McCarthy loses her way in unfunny ‘Tammy’

Sad sack: Melissa McCarthy in 'Tammy.
Sad sack: Melissa McCarthy in 'Tammy."

Tammy
★ 1/2

Lurching back and forth from uninspired slapstick to maudlin sentimentality, the almost-entirely unfunny “Tammy” is as directionless as the road trip it offers instead of a plot.

After totaling her car, being fired from her fast-food job and discovering that her husband has been cheating on her, Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) decides to leave town but realizes she has no car and no money.

Her grandma Pearl (Susan Sarandon, nearly 25 years after a similar, but much more memorable outing in “Thelma & Louise”) has an old Cadillac and a bankroll, though, and offers them both if Tammy will take her along for the ride.

Their supposed destination is Niagara Falls, but being in the car together is really just an excuse for the contentious, ignorant, boastful, generally obnoxious yet woefully put-upon Tammy and the randy, alcoholic Pearl to get on each other’s nerves and move from one misadventure to another.

“Tammy” is the first movie McCarthy has made under her own auspices, capitalizing on her increasing popularity after her breakout role in “Bridesmaids” a few years back. She co-wrote the film with her husband, actor Ben Falcone, who also directs for the first time here (in addition to playing the weaselly boss who fires her). So it’s strange and disappointing that it makes less use of her skills and considerable appeal than any of the other films that have featured her so far.

McCarthy’s plus-sized characters are typically brash and brazen with a suggestion of insecurity underneath, but “Tammy” works hard to make its namesake seem pathetic when it’s not making her the butt of its jokes.

Whether she’s crashing a jet ski into a dock (and having to pay for it) or making a mess of a fast-food faux armed robbery (and being unable to pass up some fried pies) or spending a night in jail with drunk-and-disorderly Pearl, Tammy seems at least as depressed as she is defiant. That makes it very hard to laugh at her. And it doesn’t help that she and Pearl periodically dredge up old emotional traumas to milk for tears.

It does help that McCarthy is as likeable and naturally funny as usual, though, oddly, she doesn’t seem to have been improvising as much here as she has in the past, often hilariously. But it’s difficult for her personal charm to work its way through all the contrivances and bogusness.

Maybe the next time she sets out on her own, she’ll have a clearer idea of where she wants to go.

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