A film review by Craig J. Koban April 18, 2021

THUNDER FORCE j

2021, PG-13, 103 mins.

Melissa McCarthy as Lydia  /  Octavia Spencer as Emily Stanton  /  Bobby Cannavale as The King  /  Jason Bateman as Crab Man  /  Melissa Leo as Allie  /  Pom Klementieff as Laser  /  Taylor Mosby as Tracy  /  Ben Falcone as Kenny

Written and directed by Ben Falcone

ORIGINAL FILM

Melissa McCarthy is a great actress. 

A movie like CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME is proof positive of that. 

However, she really needs to stop making movies with her writer/director husband in Ben Falcone, and their past collaborations have resulted in some of the most aggressively unfunny comedies of recent memory like THE BOSS, LIFE OF A PARTY, TAMMY, and now, yes, Netflix's THUNDER FORCE, a new would-be hysterical super hero action comedy-satire that, for me at least, became borderline unwatchable just a mere 30 minutes in.  I have a personal reviewer code that forbids me to walk out on a movie (or, as far as home consumption during the pandemic goes, stopping a movie), but THUNDER FORCE is so fundamentally witless, uninspired, and flat footed that I wanted to switch my stream off a third of the way in and never think about any movie with the words thunder and force in its title ever again.  Staring at a static filled TV screen for 103 minutes would be a better source of amusement than what's on display here. 

There are kernels of promise with this film's premise, though, which introduces us to early 1980s Chicago that has its citizens dealing with a mysterious cosmic ray that has belted the planet, which led to some people (mostly evildoers) being granted super powers of a bewildering and dangerous variety.  These new lethal crooks (called "Miscreants") have been blasting their way through the city ever since, leaving law enforcement officials struggling to ensure some semblance of order on the streets.  One young brilliant teenage mind in Emily was left orphaned in 1988 after her scientist parents were murdered, but she found some friendship solace in Lydia, who's kind of the polar opposite of the brainy Emily.  Flashforward three decades and the adult Emily (Octavia Spencer) is now an acclaimed scientist, whereas Lydia is a lowly dock worker struggling to make a living.  The pair have been semi-estranged for years and meet back up at Emily's lab, where she's been studying miscreant powers. 

Do you see where this is headed? 

 

 

Rather predictably, the bubbling Lydia - in pure Melissa McCarthy-ian bumbling camera mugging mode - accidentally gets herself strapped into a surgery chair and is injected with some super soldier-esque serum, which makes her become an all-powerful hero that - yup! - might be able to take out the Miscreant trash in the Windy City.  Emily's chief end game is to engineer a super hero team of justice seeking avengers to stop Chicago's main Miscreant king, named...The King (Bobby Cannavale), who's a dangerously unstable monster that's trying to go legit and make a mayoral run.  Emily has some tricks up her sleeve to make herself powerful, and is revealed to have the ability to become invisible, which culminates with her and Lydia forming the self anointed Thunder Force to stop The King's dastardly plans of city dominance.  Teaming up with them is Emily's tech-head daughter, Tracy (Taylor Mosby) and project overseer Allie (Melissa Leo), and from there Thunder Force hits the streets, but with many initial stumbling blocks stemming from their greenhorn status as super heroes.  Making matters worse is Lydia getting dreamy eyed over The King's main henchmen, Crab (Jason Batemen). 

So, let's talk about Crab for a minute.  

Now, I have nothing against unbridled lunacy in comedies, or even super hero satires for that matter (see the far better SKY HIGH or, to a lesser degree, MYSTERY MEN). Jason Bateman - one of our finest and most underrated of actors that can seamlessly morph between comedy and drama with ease - appears in this film as a villain with crab arms.  No, literally.  That's all there really is to this role.  This has to be the most embarrassing character of his career, leaving his appearance in this film a head spinning mystery (outside of his past team-up with McCarty in the putrid IDENTITY THIEF).  Crab has no super powers, to be clear.  He just has crab arms.  That's it.  I will say this in complete defense of the star here: He achieves a performance miracle by commendably committing himself to this utterly pointless, go-nowhere one-joke role that's frankly well beneath his talents.  His trademark dry, deadpan delivery is evident in every scene he's in, and it's pretty astounding to witness an actor play something so groan-inducingly preposterous totally straight and without telegraphing the film's already flimsy jokes.  Crab does occupy the only zinger that scores a laugh in THUNDER FORCE.  When Emily learns of his existence and crab name, she responds, "What's his power?  Being delicious while drenched in butter!"   

That's funny. 

Everything else in this movie...isn't. 

Just how utterly desperate is THUNDER FORCE for laughs?  This film's idea of "topical" (sarcastic quotes intended) comedy is to drum up situations for McCarthy to do spontaneous impersonations of Urkel and Jodie Foster's character from NELL.  This might have been amusing in a comedy twenty five years ago.  Oh, then there's a scene involving the overweight costumed clad main heroes trying to get in and out of a tight sports car.  Why...how clever.  How very...very...clever.   THUNDER FORCE digs deeper for sources of humor, like having a running joke involving Lydia (while maturing into her powers) being driven to eating raw chicken breasts to curb her new super powered metabolism.  We also get feeble knock-knock jokes and many sequences of spotty CGI showcasing McCarthy doing things that defy gravity that's nowhere near as chuckle-inducing as this film thinks it is.  All one could hope for, in the end, is that the core buddy movie genre elements would help save the day, but both actresses here have very little, if any, tangible chemistry together.  The most horrible misappropriation of talent has to be with Spencer; she's won an Oscar, Golden Globe, and is a triple crown Screen Actor's Guild Award winner...and she's the only African American actress to get consecutive Oscar nominations.  Seeing her (and the likes of other great actors like Leo, Bateman and Cannavale) wasted in another feckless and self indulgent Ben Falcone/McCarthy vehicle is an absolute Miscreant level crime against filmgoing humanity.   

We should be celebrating the idea of more female empowered super hero genre films, especially in a sausage fest led field.  There's so much unbridled potential in THUNDER FORCE to be a smart and savvy super hero satire (and one with women leading the charge) that seeing the abysmally rote, brain cell destroying end results here is so deflating.  THUNDER FORCE is a pure comic deadzone, and yet another collaboration between husband and wife that requires some kind of intervention and career divorce (I sound like such a broken record repeating this time and time again in my reviews of their films, but I have to).   And McCarthy herself is a far better and more compelling actress on screen - perhaps like a Robin Williams before her - when given the right against-type material, not to mention writers/directors that understand how to utilize her skills.  In THUNDER FORCE she's saddled with playing yet another variation of the same comic character we've seen before: The clueless slob that causes destruction - in one form or another - wherever she goes, but one with a heart of gold that means to do well.  This film is yet another dreadfully wrongheaded vanity project for Falcone and McCarthy, and one that just allows for the former to do her ultra tired shtick, but within the saturated world of comic book storytelling troupes.  Instead of innovatively soaring up, up and away, THUNDER FORCE falls flat on its face as far as super hero action comedies go.  

If you can make it past this film's 30 minute mark, then you're indeed a super hero of limitless power.  

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