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‘Tammy’: Melissa McCarthy stuck at a fork in the road trip

MelissMcCarthy stars “Tammy” wrote it with her husbBen Falcone (right) who also directs plays Tammy’s fed-up fast-food boss.  |

Melissa McCarthy stars in “Tammy” and wrote it with her husband, Ben Falcone (right), who also directs and plays Tammy’s fed-up fast-food boss. | Warner Bros.

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‘TAMMY’ ★★1⁄2

Tammy Melissa McCarthy

Pearl Susan Sarandon

Deb Allison Janney

Earl Gary Cole

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Ben Falcone and written by Falcone and Melissa McCarthy. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated R (for language including sexual references). Now showing at local theaters.

Updated: July 2, 2014 5:42PM



You know all those movies where the trailer gives away most of the good jokes or stunts or action-hero one liners, and the film itself isn’t nearly as entertaining because it turns out they crammed most of the good stuff into a one-minute spot?

“Tammy” is the opposite of that. Based on the TV ads and the trailers, it looked to be excruciating. Movie fans on Twitter and Instagram were expressing their sympathies and advising me to run for the exit the other night when I all I said was I was about to see it.

But the actual movie contained nearly enough elements for me to give it a mild recommendation.

Nearly.

After the critical and box-office success of “Bridesmaids” and “Heat” (even the critical misfire “Identity Thief” grossed more than $130 million domestically), the funny, charming and versatile Melissa McCarthy is one of the hottest stars in Hollywood right now, and how about that.

McCarthy has a much bigger personal stake in “Tammy” than in those films, given it’s a project she worked on with her husband Ben Falcone for years. Falcone is the director, McCarthy is the star and co-writer and producer.

This is their baby. It’s a shame it finally reached fruition with such a split personality.

For the first half hour or so, “Tammy” doesn’t show much promise. McCarthy’s title character is a hapless mope with a nowhere job at a fast-food joint, a jerk of a husband and little awareness of the world around her. (As we learn later, she doesn’t know who Mark Twain is, and she’s clueless about why gas prices are nearly $4 a gallon.) Early on, Tammy falls down a lot, but “Tammy” isn’t close to fall-down funny.

When Tammy’s life falls apart, “Tammy” turns into an uneven road movie, with Tammy’s grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon), an alcoholic, diabetic free spirit, joining Tammy on a road trip with plenty of buddy-movie action comedy, interspersed with some serious drama. I was taken aback at how much I was actually moved when Pearl hits bottom. Of course, some of the credit for that goes to Sarandon, who’s in top form here. Not to mention another Academy Award winner, Kathy Bates, who turns what could have been a cliched supporting role as a mother-hen lesbian into something memorable. (There’s a whole movie that could be made out of the story of Bates’ Lenore and her lover Susanne, played by Sandra Oh. As Lenore tells Tammy in one particularly poignant moment, it wasn’t always cool to be gay.)

But even with a running time of just 96 minutes, “Tammy” stalls out at times. Tammy and her grandmother singing the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” on a park bench, which leads to the inevitable cutaway of Gregg Allman singing “Midnight Rider,” comes across as a contrived effort to create one of those memorable movie moments.

A few other speed bumps: Nat Faxon and Toni Collette are wasted as Tammy’s husband and a neighbor woman. Gary Cole and Mark Duplass show up as Earl and Bobby, a father-and-son love interest for Pearl and Tammy, respectively, but there are some needless complications about their family situation. And a scene in which Pearl and Earl first hook up rings cartoonishly wrong and yields little humor.

Also — and I realize we’re talking about a broad comedy here — some of the key casting choices literally don’t add up. The 67-year-old Sarandon plays the mother of the 54-year-old Alison Janney, who plays the mother of the 43-year-old McCarthy. Sarandon is great fun as Pearl, but she’s playing an elderly, seriously ill woman who should be in the hospital and/or assisted living, and she looks spry and sharp enough to run for president.

Tammy’s a dimwitted simpleton who never understood why she shouldn’t say men are drawn to her like “flies on s---.” When she’s told to look at “3 o’clock,” of course she turns to 9 o’clock. She’s the world’s worst criminal. We’ve certainly seen successful comedies featuring likable dupes, but “Tammy” wants to have it both ways, which makes it feel as if the film is hedging its bets. When you’re balancing ridiculous slapstick right out of a live-action cartoon with well-written, well-acted scenes that feel completely of this world, that’s a tough balancing act, and “Tammy” isn’t quite up to the task on a consistent basis.

Not exactly the pull quote they’ll be putting on the poster or the home video release, but I walked out of Tammy thinking, “It could have been worse.” My bet is Falcone and McCarthy will deliver a better, more fully realized movie down the road.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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