Entertainment

‘Thunder Force’ Review: Saving Chicago, One Mutant at a Time

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The latest in a series of dark comic book collaborations between Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone, Thunder Force does nothing to improve its predecessors. It does, however, underscore how firmly anchored McCarthy’s cartoon characters are in Shtick, and how much better this gifted actress deserves it.

Written and directed by Falcone with slapdash recklessness, the film follows the title duo of Zaftig superheroes Lydia and Emily (McCarthy and Octavia Spencer) who want to save Chicago from genetic mutants known as miscreants. We learn that these super villains trace their lineage back to 1983 when cosmic rays messed up their DNA.

Any crime fight, however, is just the goofy sauce in the story of an odd female friendship. Lydia and Emily have been estranged since high school and reconnect as adults when Lydia, now a bear-loving forklift truck with an impressive collection of beer cans – in other words, a cliché from the blue collar – stumbles into a laboratory where Emily, a brilliant one Geneticist, is testing mystery sera. A few pratfalls and a bit of slapstick later, Lydia was injected with inhuman strength and Emily treated herself with the rest of the serum. I have to believe that Spencer was relieved to learn that the superpower conveyed was invisibility.

When the couple, wrapped in costumes that make them look like unfortunate 16th-century Jousters, attack an embarrassingly small number of villains, a kind of conspiracy ensues. A skeevy mayoral candidate (Bobby Cannavale) and his pet mutant (Pom Klementieff), who specializes in throwing deadly energy balls, are terrorizing voters. Armed only with an oversized taser and musically prepared by Glenn Frey, Thunder Force has to stop them. Once Lydia has overcome her craving for a man with crab claws instead of arms.

That bit of sexual slumming is greatly enlivened by Jason Bateman’s sideways skittering performance as The Crab, a criminal with no discernible superpower and all-too-visible barriers to romance. However, it’s nowhere near enough to save a sluggish script with just a handful of funny lines and apparent confusion about its target audience. The jokes are youthful, but how many teenagers will realize it Lydia’s imitation of a 1994 Jodie Foster in “Nell?”

For McCarthy, whose 2019 Oscar nomination for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Was extraordinarily well deserved, a return to drama couldn’t hurt. It would certainly be wiser to repeat projects like this one.

Thunder power
Rated PG-13 for suggestive speech and human-crustacean foreplay. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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Robert Dunfee