31 Days to Scare ~ An American Werewolf in London

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.

Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover, Lila Kaye

Director: John Landis

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: This fondly remembered horror flick from 1981 is one I personally tend to forget about every few years, prompting a re-watch to refresh my memory. It’s not that the movie doesn’t hold up over time, but it starts off so good that by the time it reaches the halfway mark it’s run out of steam and sputters to the finish line. While it’s widely regarded as a classic genre film and even nabbed the first ever Best Makeup Oscar for Rick Baker’s creative werewolf transformations and elegant gore imagery, there’s something chilly to the whole picture that fails to linger too long in the memory.

Coming off the one-two punch of Animal House and The Blues Brothers, it seemed like a strange choice for director John Landis to take on a horror film, albeit one with a heavy dose of sardonic comedy. There are so many in-jokes and enough rapid-fire yucks to make your head spin, but they serve as increasingly less-appetizing distractions from the horror main course. When the film stays on its mission it’s gold, it’s when Landis gets goofy that the film starts to unravel for this viewer.

Americans David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are wandering through the Yorkshire moors when they stop in at a local pub to warm their hands and their bellies. Sensing some tension from the locals, the two hitch up their boots and head out but not before being warned to stay on the road and not to venture off the path. Sure enough, as most dumb Americans are wont to do, David and Jack have strayed and get lost in the highlands at night and eventually find themselves stalked by someone or something they cannot see.

While one of these men won’t live past the first reel after being mauled by a giant beast, he returns often as a decaying ghost that haunts the other who was merely bitten by the monster. Like a bleeding Jacob Marley, he warns his friend that when the next full moon arrives he’ll be turning into a true blue werewolf. The living friend tries to write-off these visions as side-effects of the trauma and warms up to a kindly (and, really, rather unprofessional) nurse who takes him home to her flat and her bed. When the next full moon arrives, the poor guy goes through a whopper of a hairy growth spurt and begins a rampage through the London nightlife.

Funny, having only seen this a few weeks ago I’m already fuzzy on how the movie wraps up but I know that it was a far cry from the creepy opening sequence that sets the stage so nicely. Landis is a decent filmmaker who would go on to direct several classic films of the ’80s before striking out again and again. While he and Rick Baker would catch the attention of Michael Jackson and be hired to direct and design the make-up for his landmark Thriller video, I’m not sure Landis ever satisfactorily returned to horror even though he made a few vain attempts.

It is right and just that An American Werewolf in London became a touchstone of early ‘80s comedy-horror and Baker’s effects are really a sight to behold. I just wish the movie had more going for it than the effects and a strikingly good first 1/3. Whatever you do, don’t confuse this with the wretched sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris which is a follow-up in name only.

 

31 Days to Scare ~ The Thing (1982) {Trailer}

Synopsis: A twelve-man research team stationed in Antarctica finds an alien being that has fallen from the sky and has been buried for over 100,000 years.

Release Date: June 25th, 1982

Thoughts: It’s often nice not only to look back at classic films but also to check out their previews. Dig too far back (say to the ‘50s or ‘60s) and you’re likely to get the whole movie spoiled for you but there was a nice pocket of time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the art of crafting a slick teaser was at its peak.  1979’s Alien will remain my all time favorite teaser but this one for 1982’s The Thing is high up on my list as well.  A remake of The Thing from Another World that was actually improved upon by director John Carpenter, the arctic-set The Thing was surprisingly released in early summer.  It’s holds up exceedingly well all these years later and is considered one of my old stand-bys if I want to pop in a scary sure-thing.  Along with its snazzy Drew Struzan poster (check out the Struzan doc Drew: The Man Behind the Poster for the story of how it came to be), the promotional machine for The Thing was firing on all cylinders.

 

Want another teaser for The Thing?  Here’s an even earlier one!

31 Days to Scare ~ The Snowman

The Facts:

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, James D’Arcy, J.K. Simmons

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: Whoa…it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie this bad from the get-go. Yes, The Snowman is unquestionably as terrible as you’ve heard it is and it’s likely going to wind up the worst movie released theatrically in 2017. That the film is even getting a wide release is a bit of a miracle and one has to give major chutzpah props to Universal Studios for daring to send out this not even half-baked lame thriller. What’s especially depressing is that so many talented (and Oscar-winning!) people were involved with this both in front of and behind the camera. Collectively, someone should be made to give back one of their Oscars and I’ll leave it to the group to decide who is going to part with their little gold man. A movie this incompetently made demands a sacrifice.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s international bestseller but evidentially substantially changed by the three screenwriters attributed to the script, The Snowman starts on the wrong foot and never recovers. Not that it attempts to, jumping right into introducing boozy Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) in Oslo as he stumbles back to the police force after a drunken bender. There’s little in the way of character introduction of any kind, the movie just happens to find recognizable faces along the way and incorporates them into the story when convenient.

There’s Rebecca Ferguson (Life) as, I think, a visiting detective with a secret agenda that still takes on local cases, such as the one with the missing woman that unites her with Harry. This investigation leads them to a possible serial killer who, Ferguson hilariously concludes, is triggered “by the falling snow”. Possible suspects include a suspicious husband of the missing woman (James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas), a creepy doctor (David Denick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and wealthy land developer played by J.K. Simmons (Patriots Day). Simmons is just one of the cast sporting a disastrous British accent, though the entire action takes place in Norway. Are these all just a specific band of ex-pats with a killer in their midst? Nah, all the signs and newspapers are in English…even the police station features no Norwegian signage.

I’ve always said I couldn’t get enough of Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace) but she’s playing twins here and it turns out…one Sevigny is more than enough. Then there’s the mysterious case of the nearly unrecognizable Val Kilmer seen only in flashback as a detective in neighboring Bergen. Looking shockingly sickly (the actor recently survived a throat tumor) and clearly dubbed, his performance is off the rails and just another piece of a puzzle that is just not meant to fit together. I can’t even go there with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba) as Fassbender’s old girlfriend, especially after witnessing a clothed sex scene between the two that’s as awkwardly uncomfortable to watch as seeing a lab rat trying to mate with a St. Bernard.

Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) has popped up in interviews saying that 15% of the script wound up not being filmed and that does not surprise me in the least. It at least explains how Oscar-winner and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker (Cape Fear) managed to piece together a movie that makes almost entirely no sense. There are no scene transitions or establishing shots so it is impossible to determine where the characters are in relation to not only the plot but each other. There’s one sequence cut so poorly that you think two actors are in the same room but are in fact miles away from each other. Ferguson’s hair changes color several times, about as many times as Fassbender’s hair gets longer then shorter from one moment to the next. While Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (Into the Woods) captures some of the gloomier Norwegian vistas with a bit of flair, the visuals are weighed down heavily by the sterile production design from Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald (Oscar nominees themselves for The Imitation Game) that heavily favors latte colored IKEA furnishings.

A competent creative team has crafted a truly incompetent film here, even the finale is botched with the suggestion of a sequel so laughably inserted that your heart aches for the Universal Studios executive that must have pleaded for it to be incorporated just in case.  I’m usually not a fan of audiences talking during a movie but as the film progressed the chatter became louder and louder as everyone began to question what in the actual hell was going on. This is terrible filmmaking, an embarrassment for every single person above and below the line.  While it’s bound to be mentioned in the same breath as other Scandinavian-set thrillers, it not even fit to be included in the belch that follows that breath.

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day

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31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  This movie stinks!

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  This is a new classic!

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’ll probably get put into some movie critic jail (with a suspended sentence) for giving a marginal thumbs up to Happy Death Day…but this is one of the far more harmless offerings in the increasingly profitable low-impact horror genre.  It’s aimed squarely at the sleepover crowd, teen-ish tweens that like their scares bloodless and more than a tad bitchy.  In that respect, the movie delivers in spades but hardcore horror fans looking for the rebirth of the masked-killer slasher film are bound to leave the theater ready to slice and dice the filmmakers.

With a premise so much stolen from Groundhog Day that a character actually references it late into proceedings, there’s a certain goodwill charm to Happy Death Day that kept me from rolling my eyes so hard I fell out of my seat.  Tree (Jessica Rothe, La La Land, who possesses a great scream but poor line readings) is a bratty college co-ed who wakes up from a night of partying in the dorm room of an underclassman (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring) so clueless he boasts of folding her clothes and is disappointed she doesn’t remember his name.  As she takes the walk of shame back to her sorority house she wanders through the quad barely noticing car alarms going off, a lip-locked couple getting soaked by sprinklers, or a tired pledge fainting from a frat hazing.  She also bumps into a random admirer and runs into her queen bee sorority frenemy (a hilarious Rachel Matthews) before crash landing on her bed, much to the wonderment of her timid roomie (Ruby Modine) ready to present Tree with her birthday cupcake

As Tree’s day goes on, we come to see she’s having an affair with her married teacher and avoiding her dad who wants to take her out for her birthday.  None of that really matters, though, because later that evening when she’s on her way to another frat party she’s chased down and killed by someone wearing a mask depicting the school mascot.  And then she wakes up in the same dorm room to live it all over again and subsequently dies at the hands of the baby-faced killer.  And then she wakes up again…and again…and again…each time resulting in her death.  Pretty soon she’s making use of her multiple lives and crossing possible suspects off her list, a sequence set to music that gives the film an unusually welcome comic diversion. Every time she comes back, though, the effects of her ‘deaths’ start to show so it’s a race against seemingly endless time to find out who wants her dead and why.  The mystery isn’t quite as simple to solve as you may think; there are enough red herrings to feed a small village and the final solution (or is it solutions?) goes down easy.

Though it tries to join the ranks of college-set slasher films like Happy Birthday to Me and The House on Sorority Row, the problem I had with the movie is likely the exact reason it may do some decent business this upcoming Friday the 13th weekend, it’s just not scary enough is totally risk averse.  While competently made by director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) from a fitfully interesting script by Scott Lobdell (X-Men: Days of Future Past), I got the impression it was intended to be bloodier (there’s almost no blood at all in the film) but was toned down to cash in on a particular target audience.  Originally titled Half to Death (what?), I wouldn’t be shocked to see an uncut version of Happy Death Day pop up on BluRay but at the end of the day this feels like a watered down Long Island Ice Tea…there’s a faint taste of booze but not enough to have much effect.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Snowman

Synopsis: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Release Date:  October 20, 2017

Thoughts: With the popularity of Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s series of novels following Detective Harry Hole (yikes, a most unfortunate name), it was merely a matter of time before the hardened investigator appeared onscreen.  I’m intrigued to see Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) signed on to what could be yet another lucrative franchise, lately he’s seemed to be making a lot of interesting indie choices.  What could have attracted him to such commercial fare?  Probably it’s the money but maybe there’s promise in this mystery which also stars Rebecca Ferguson (Life), J.K. Simmons (The Accountant), and Chloë Sevigny (Lovelace).  A big screen adaptation of Nesbø’s novel Headhunters made for fun fare a few years back and with these procedural serial killer flick on the decline, let’s hope The Snowman doesn’t melt at the box office.

The Silver Bullet ~ Happy Death Day

 

Synopsis: Teen must relive the same day over and over again until she figures out who is trying to kill her and why.

Release Date:  October 13, 2017

Thoughts: As the old saying goes: Into every theater, a little cheese must fall (or something like that).  Look, I have no aspirations that Happy Death Day is going to be a top-tier horror entry or even a mediocre curiosity either…but is it too wrong to hope this provides some silly diversion entertainment this fall?  Given a prime release date of Friday the 13th in October, this is another low-budget entry from Blumhouse Pictures (The Visit, The Purge, Split, Insidious) who has shown a knack for raking in some serious dough with their features.  Directed by Christopher Landon  (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse & Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and with visions of Groundhog Day dancing in my head, this trailer for Happy Death Day gave me a good chuckle…but can it prove to be more original than it looks?

The Silver Bullet ~ Fifty Shades Darker

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Synopsis: While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

Release Date: February 10, 2017

Thoughts: Though 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey was a sizable (if controversial) hit for Universal, even its most ardent supporters agreed there was something amiss in the big screen adaptation of the first book in author E.L. James’s trilogy. Perhaps it was the well-documented disagreements between James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson that left the the movie having no real voice.  Or maybe it was the rumored mutual hatred stars Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax) and Dakota Johnson (Need for Speed) had for eachother, leading to questionable chemistry and giving Dornan pause to reconsider coming back for the final two entries.  The paycheck (or perhaps lawyers) prevailed and Dornan returns along with Johnson for Fifty Shades Darker which looks just as inscrutable and sudsy as its predecessor.  Adding Kim Basinger (Final Analysis), Hugh Dancy, Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), and Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon) and bringing in James Foley to relieve Taylor-Johnson of her directing duties, it will be interesting to see if this sequel can win back its target audience.  With the final movie almost completed, there’s no stopping this machine even if we wanted to.

The Silver Bullet ~ Split

split

Synopsis: Kevin, a man with at least 23 different personalities, is compelled to abduct three teenage girls. As they are held captive, a final personality – “The Beast” – begins to materialize.

Release Date: January 20, 2017

Thoughts: There was a time when the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a poster or movie trailer would elicit a little shiver down your spine. Then came a string of overstuffed, self-serving duds that found his name removed from all marketing materials in order to not tip off audiences he was involved. Then along came the surprisingly strong (and scary!) The Visit in 2015 and Shyamalan got some of that clout back…and I’m hoping that Split continues the Shyamalan-aissance. The latest thriller with a twist finds James McAvoy (Trance) with multiple personalities holding three girls hostage and there’s some nice potential here for some spooky scenery chewing. With January no longer that foreboding dumping ground for useless films that it once was, could Split ring in the New Year with a yelp?

Movie Review ~ The Purge: Election Year

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two years after choosing not to kill the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Barnes has become head of security for Senator Charlene Roan, the front runner in the next Presidential election due to her vow to eliminate the Purge.

Stars: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Edwin Hodge, Betty Gabriel, JJ Soria, Mykelti Williamson

Director: James DeMonaco

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not sure if The Purge: Election Year was part of writer/director James DeMonaco’s long-term Purge franchise plan from the start, but with Americans steeling themselves for another bitter election in November and the continued struggle with gun control it’s arrival is anything but poorly timed. Now, the movie itself is fairly run of the mill with performances that range from metered investment to foamed-mouth zeal but, like its two predecessors, its morality tale is disquieting and prescient.

What started as a home invasion thriller in 2013’s The Purge morphed into a rough and tumble sequel in 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy. Both films pretty much disintegrated in their third acts and The Purge: Election Year also struggles with making it over the finish line with any semblance of order…but for me it was an improvement over the previous entries thanks to a strong build-up.

Set in the year 2025, Election Year brings back Frank Grillo from Anarchy as Leo Barnes, no longer out for revenge for his son’s murder but instead focusing on protecting a beacon of hope to end the yearly Purge. That hope is Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) an idealistic senator hoping to win the approaching election to unseat the bureaucratic nebula called the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) that instituted and continue to support the annual Purge. Running a campaign based around her desire to outlaw the yearly Purge, she’s made a number of enemies from the elite NFFA who conspire to use the pending Purge to get rid of her.

Though their methods of dealing with conflict differ greatly, Roan and Barnes are united in knowing the horrors the Purge can bring. When Roan is double-crossed by agents meant to protect her, Barnes teams up with an inner-city crew to keep Roan alive until the night is over. As in Anarchy, Election Year introduces us to another set of characters whose storyline will intersect with Barnes and Roan sometime during the night. Those other characters are a deli owner (Mykelti Williamson), his immigrant employee (JJ Soria), and a reformed tough-gal (Betty Gabriel) who has left her Purge bloodlust behind and helps transport victims to a triage center instead.

A solid first 45 minutes gives way to another Purge night filled with gory killings and ordinary citizens turning into crazed psychos. All manner of crime is legal for one night…yet DeMonaco never focuses on the jaywalkers, embezzlers, mattress tag rippers, and movie pirates. I suppose it would be tough to generate a thrill from following people that steal stop signs all night, but when we see yet another shot of someone getting an arrow through the head or turning up at the business end of a guillotine it does make me wish for more white-collar crimes.

The film has several endings, none of which are very satisfying. Most of the bad guys are dead, some of the good guys are…but nothing feels finalized or complete. Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Mitchell are strong leads and I liked what Gabriel was giving us. Williamson gest a full meal out of his scenery chewing while Raymond J. Barry and Kyle Secor (The Doctor) devour the film like they’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have to make some space for Brittany Mirabile for her absolutely unhinged schoolgirl turned savage out for payback on Williamson and his store. I’m not saying it’s a good performance, but credit Mirabile for having gusto to just go for it.

It feels like this could be the last entry in The Purge franchise and that’s AOK with me. There’s not a lot further DeMonaco could take the concept/characters and the true finale hints at a Purge-less future that may be even scarier…mostly because it reminds us of the here and now.

Movie Review ~ The Boss

boss_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: A titan of industry is sent to prison after she’s caught for insider trading. When she emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart, not everyone she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Cecily Strong, Timothy Simons

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I think I’ve finally figured out what makes a Melissa McCarthy movie good…humanity. After grimacing through The Heat and fighting the urge to flee from Tammy, I started coming around to McCarthy again in 2015’s Spy. Now comes The Boss and though early previews were, I admit, fairly entertaining with some laughs on a level that few trailers can drum up, I was still mighty suspicious. McCarthy was re-teaming with her husband, Ben Falcone, who would direct her in a film from a script the two of them wrote with Steve Mallory. Could it be another Tammy waiting to happen?

Thankfully, it’s not and it’s largely because, like Spy, McCarthy’s isn’t playing a dim-wit monster that growls and gnaws her way through the film. No, she’s playing an actual human being that’s drawn with some fairly nuanced broad strokes. Though it’s far from being the kind of solid material that earned her an Oscar nomination in Bridesmaids, The Boss finds McCarthy continuing her ascent into figuring out what kind of roles she not only succeeds with, but that audiences respond favorably to. As in Tammy, she’s playing a fairly irksome character, but it’s one grounded in a kind of savvy reality that Tammy never could capture.

Abandoned at birth and by several adoptive families along the way, Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) has risen to the top as a motivational guru that prides herself on empowering women to take what they want without apologizing for it. Her past disappointments in people have kept her cold though, and she’s brazenly rough with anyone that tries to get close. Her long-suffering assistant Claire (Kristen Bell, Frozen) is tired of her antics but as a single mom she needs the job, no matter how frustrating her employer is.

When an old-flame now business rival of Michelle’s (Peter Dinklage, Pixels) turns her over to the government for insider trading, Michelle loses everything as she spends six months in jail for her crimes. After she gets out, she moves-in with Claire and her young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) and before long has started her own empire to rival a Girl Scout-like troupe.

Performance wise, as I said before McCarthy resists the urge to snarl her way through the movie in favor of showing that Darnell’s nastiness comes from a place of personal protection…if she makes sure people know she doesn’t give two hoots, then they can’t hurt her.  As is typical, McCarthy isn’t afraid to throw herself into the physical comedy bits, which means that Darnell trips and crashes down stairs, gets tossed into a wall by a sleeper sofa, and brawls with a gaggle of young girls and their mothers.

Bell does exasperated well and plays nicely as second banana and straight woman to McCarthy.  The actresses have a nice rapport and during the gag reel at the end of the movie they seem like they genuinely like each other as well.  There’s nice supporting turns from Anderson as one of the rare child actors that can actually act without being obnoxiously precocious and Tyler Labine (Monsters University) makes for a nice romantic interest for Bell, though the film really doesn’t need the extra distraction.  Kathy Bates (Titanic) shared the best scene with McCarthy in Tammy and parlays that into a brief but memorable cameo as a former mentor of Darnell’s. I feel like there was more of Bates performance left on the cutting room floor, but I guess we’ll have to wait for some deleted scenes to see if it was wise to excise them.

I’m going to go on record now and say that I do not now and have not ever liked Dinklage.  His mock seriousness only goes so far and while I gave him some slack in Pixels, he’s easily the worst thing about The Boss.  Playing a mix of Derek Zoolander and Dr. Evil, Dinklage is in a totally different movie and doesn’t seem to care. Seeing the impish Dinklage fawning over the large and in charge McCarthy is more of a sight gag than anything else and it’s one that wears off almost immediately.

Though the film doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it could be 15 minutes shorter and exist as a much tighter comedy…but too often McCarthy, Falcone, and Mallory don’t know when to quit or cut as gags go on too long and some conflated dramatic tension is introduced for no real reason other than because the Screenwriting 101 book must have said so. When the film hits its target, it’s a solid bullseye for laughs but when it misses it’s mark it starts to be the worst thing a comedy can be…boring.

The Boss isn’t as fun as Spy but it does have its moments where the time spent feels worth it. If anything, it shows that McCarthy is capable of writing herself a character that’s from planet earth.  It’s silly entertainment…but it’s entertainment all the same.