It takes a lot of work to make Melissa McCarthy seem unfunny, but "The Boss" is more than up to the task.
McCarthy shelves her usual boisterous female John Belushi act for a more refined character -- megalomaniacal mogul Michelle Darnell, who is a blend of Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Suze Orman. Once Michelle is imprisoned for insider training, her long-suffering assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell) quits and tries to move on with her life, only to find her old boss pop up at her doorstep, needing a place to live.
The transformation from all-controlling power broker to needy loser sets up a fish-out-of-water premise that director Ben Falcone strangles to death.
If there were chemistry between McCarthy or Bell, there would be at least half a chance this thing would get off the ground, but their characters' contempt for each other is so convincing that it's easy to believe it transcends off camera, at least to a degree. Since both are bona fide leading ladies who happen to be extremely funny, both are always yearning for the spotlight. In a bland, lifeless movie like this, there is so little good material to go around that one or both actresses are left hanging.
Making things even more awkward is the presence of Peter Dinklage, who plays Michelle's former lover and current business nemesis Renault. Despite being the one who put Michelle away, Renault is determined to continue ruining her life once she's released and starts a strange, unlikely business enterprise by turning a Girl Scouts cookies-style enterprise into a Fortune 500 company.
The writing is so stale that there are almost never any decent lines. Falcone, who exploited McCarthy's physical comedy so well in "Tammy," overcompensates for the dry feel by slamming in gratuitous sight gags whenever possible. That leads to spring-loaded sleeper couches that hurl people through walls, Michelle tumbling down stairs and people getting tossed off buildings. You're more likely to laugh at yourself for getting suckered into buying a ticket than you are anything on screen.
McCarthy, who parlayed a TV career into sizzling-hot movie stardom in 2011 with "Bridesmaids," then followed that up with a series of near-aces such as "The Heat," "Tammy" and "Spy," may be in danger of sliding into Adam Sandler mode -- respected and well-paid for earlier roles while content to cash in and disappoint her fan base.
Hopefully "The Boss" turns out to be the exception rather than the rule. "The Bust" would have been a more fitting title.
RATING: 1.5 stars out of 4