Meet Tammy. Boy, is she a mess. Angry, profane and aggressive, then suddenly shy and sweet. Sometimes she’s funny, sometimes totally not. She can’t figure out what she wants to do or be, or where to go. She has loads of people around her, yet can’t figure out what to do with them. This one’s in desperate need of outside help.
And you thought we were talking about Tammy, the character — played by lovable Melissa McCarthy in her first venture as producer, star and co-writer with husband Ben Falcone. Well, sure. But really we’re talking about “Tammy” the movie, about which all of the above descriptions are also true.
Especially the “mess” part. Oy.
Other recent comedies have been described as elongated “Saturday Night Live” skits, but it’s especially apt here, and not just because McCarthy and Falcone, who also directs, are veteran improv performers. Exaggerated characters, some wacky side plots, a couple of famous faces sprinkled in, and you’re off. Some of it’s good, some terrible, but you keep it all, ‘cause, hey, why not? It’s a comedy sketch.
Only this is a much anticipated, heavily promoted feature-length film, and as such, it can only be deemed an unfortunate, though ambitious and intermittently enjoyable, misfire for McCarthy, so adorably entertaining in better movies like “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.”
Part of the problem is miscasting. “Tammy” is full of name actors: Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Dan Akyroyd. Most are misused. (Bates is a happy exception.)
Most glaring of all: Sarandon plays Tammy’s doddering grandmother, Pearl, with whom Tammy goes on a female-bonding road trip (yes, obvious echoes of “Thelma and Louise”). Give her credit for trying, but really, Sarandon as a doddering grandma? McCarthy is 43. Sarandon is 67, but we all know she looks great for 50, maybe 45. They give her a dumpy pants ensemble, an unflattering gray wig and fake swollen ankles, but we don’t buy it for a minute. Just look at Sarandon’s glowing skin here — she should be doing a Dove commercial.
It still might have worked if these two actresses had the comic chemistry (or the script) that made us laugh at the rowdy McCarthy teaming with the uptight Bullock in “The Heat.” No heat here, alas.
We first meet Tammy on, arguably, the worst day of her life. First, her car hits a deer. That makes her late for her job at Topper Jack’s burger joint, where she’s promptly fired by her sadistic boss Keith (Falcone), and responds by licking all the hamburger buns.
At home, she finds husband Greg (Nat Faxon) romancing neighbor Missi (Toni Collette, criminally underused). Furious, she runs home to her mother, Deb (Allison Janney, a great-looking 54-year-old, and thus also implausibly cast — but whatever.)
Tammy wants to hit the road. That’s where Pearl comes in. She’s eager to stave off the nursing home, and has a huge wad of cash.
Misadventures ensue. Tammy totals a jet ski. Pearl gets drunk — she’s a serious alcoholic, and a diabetic — and ends up having sex in a car with a randy old guy, while his son (Mark Duplass, in a sweet performance) and Tammy watch in disgust. Tammy and Pearl get in trouble with the law. Tammy needs bail money for Pearl, so she robs a Topper Jack’s with a paper bag on her head.
Somehow the two end up — and you knew this was coming — at a huge lesbian July 4th party! The hosts are Pearl’s friend Lenore, played by the terrific Bates, and girlfriend Susanne (Sandra Oh, barely used at all.) This is where things go seriously wrong between Pearl and Tammy.
It all comes hurtling oddly, with weird rhythm and pacing, to an equally odd ending. At least Tammy — the character, not the movie — seems to know a little more about where she’s going.
Us? We’re still scratching our heads.
“Tammy,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for language, including sexual references.” Running time: 96 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.