Susan Sarandon, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from "Tammy."
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What’s in a name?
Everything when you’re a Melissa McCarthy character.
McCarthy’s eponymous Tammy is Megan from Bridesmaids, Diana from Identity Thief, and Mullins from The Heat; only the name, occupation, and hair color/style distinguish these loud, obnoxious, rude, and profane, yet oddly sweet and ultimately kind-hearted women from each other. It’s a role the comic actress has played so often, one wonders if character traits like frequent F-bombs and pratfalls are part of a rider she has with film studios.
About the only surprise Tammy offers is in the credits: a screenplay by McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone, who also makes his directorial debut. Otherwise, the comedy sticks to the McCarthy film formula: a series of predictably awkward situations, followed by R-rated outbursts, stumbles and tumbles, and an improvised line or two.
Directed by: Ben Falcone.
Written by: Melissa McCarthy and Falcone. A New Line release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated R for language including sexual references. Running time: 97 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Sandra Oh, Alison Janney.
It’s a shtick that begins shortly after the film opens to Tammy singing along to an ’80s hit — Your Love by the Outfield — blaring from a cassette tape boom box in a beat-up car as she drives to work. It’s the kind of dual-purpose scene meant to define a character and make audiences laugh, yet only happens in movies by novice screenwriters.
Tammy’s fun is fleeting as, in order, she wrecks her car after colliding with a deer, is fired from her fast-food job, and discovers her husband Greg (Nat Faxon) is having an affair with a neighbor (Toni Collette, one of several recognizable actors who pop up in smaller roles).
Dejected and ornery, Tammy leaves Greg and plans to take her parents’ (Allison Janney and Dan Aykroyd) car and leave town. Instead, she agrees to drive her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) — who has a wad of cash and a car — to Niagara Falls. Sarandon is 67, Janney is 54, and McCarthy is 43; the only thing less authentic than this mother-daughter-granddaughter relationship is the grey curly wig Sarandon wears to convince us she’s elderly and ill with diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Mark Duplass, left, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from "Tammy."
Warner Bros. Pictures Enlarge
Pearl is also a raging alcoholic who isn’t concerned about her health, while Tammy is impulsive and has the decision-making skills of a 5-year-old in a candy store. The pair take turns getting into trouble: Tammy’s expensive Jet Ski accident, Pearl picking up a fellow alcoholic named Earl (Gary Cole) at a bar, leaving her granddaughter to flirt with his frustrated son Bobby (Mark Duplass), who later finds himself attracted to Tammy’s unpredictability and offers her a chance at being happy, which she rejects.
While McCarthy and Sarandon have a sweet familial chemistry, their characters are too similar to brew much comic tension, unlike last summer’s The Heat and its inspired Odd Couple interplay between McCarthy’s foul-mouthed detective and Sandra Bullock’s uptight FBI agent. As determined as McCarthy and Falcone are to make Tammy and Pearl likable and eccentric, this struggling granddaughter and troubled grandmother are never as funny as they are pitiful; a combination of bad habits and questionable choices that have gotten them to this depressing point in their lives.
Fortunately for them, a road trip movie is always about the journey to redemption and/or change. Helping them reach that point is Pearl’s cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates) and her partner Susanne (Sandra Oh).
While Falcone’s direction is straightforward and dull, Oh and especially Bates bring energy and fun into their scenes. Too bad they couldn’t bring extra laughs as well.
Tammy, for all its screen talent, is sparse in humor and surprises. It’s a safe and predictable star vehicle by a star determined to remain that way.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.