Saturday, September 23, 2023

‘Thunder Force’ is Unabashedly Silly

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Thunder Force is, by no definition, a good movie. But I laughed, hard, so I don’t particularly care if it’s good or not. Then again, I get the feeling Thunder Force doesn’t care that much either.

Ben Falcone directs this caped crusader comedy in the style of a 90s made for television movie. It’s a comedy about superheroes that doesn’t seem to have watched any movies about superheroes of the last decade or read the comic books. It doesn’t matter, because it’s still funny.

Melissa McCarthy is one of our era’s great comedic talents; her dramatic chops are just as sharp. Though her movies with her husband and sometimes writing partner, Falcone, are largely hit and miss. Their collaborations are often fraught with too much excess and not enough structure. 

In truth, Thunder Force suffers from those same flaws, but McCarthy’s Lydia is just the right balance of insufferable and lovable that it works. Falcone imbues the movie with a lackadaisical vibe commonly found in early Adam Sandler films. The plot doesn’t connect the scenes so much as give the film an excuse to exist.

The plot’s thrust is that childhood friends, who have since become estranged, Lydia and Emily (Octavia Spencer), become superheroes. This happens after Lydia shows up to Emily’s office to drag her to their high school reunion and accidentally gets injected with a formula designed to create superheroes. Frankly, I would have enjoyed watching whatever antics Spencer and McCarthy could have conjured up if Falcone had found a way to incorporate the High School reunion a little more, but that’s just me.

Supervillains exist, such as Laser (Pom Klementieff) and the Crab (Jason Bateman), but superheroes do not. The villains are called Miscreants. In the comic panel opening, we are told that in the early 80s, a cosmic pulse struck Earth, triggering genetic mutation who happened to be sociopathic. It’s a lot of leg work to lay out a premise and a world that Thunder Force doesn’t care that much about. The movie is much better off when it’s not caring about forwarding the plot and instead explores the little pockets of dark absurdism in the world.

Falcone’s script has the bones of a superhero movie, but his direction in Thunder Force feels more like something akin to Caddyshack. A film that isn’t all that good but nonetheless hilarious. Just like the lives and loves of the caddies, the superhero plot doesn’t matter. It’s McCarthy and Spencer riffing that makes the heart of the film.

McCarthy and Spencer have easy-going chemistry, and while Spencer seems awkward and ill at ease at times, there are moments in which the two click, and it’s a low-key type of low-stakes fun. It’s rare to see a comic book movie where its two leads stop and sing “The Superbowl Shuffle.” A moment that had me giggling.

There’s something to be said for how little women in their forties of a particular body type are allowed to goof around on screen indulging in bawdy humor. My favorite bit involved the strange, almost disturbing, affair that blossoms between Lydia and Bateman’s Crab. It shouldn’t work, but both actors devote themselves to the premise in a way that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Bobby Cannavale plays The King, a miscreant running for Mayor. I guess that counts as a spoiler, but when a politician played by Cannavale struts around the screen in suits with big shoulder pads and smiles in a way you can see all his teeth, it’s generally a good bet that we’re looking at our bad guy. Thunder Force finds a fair bit of humor in how Cannavale’s King has anger issues and tends to kill henchmen only to regret it when he’s informed he’s just killed one of his best workers.

The movie commits one true crime, wasting Melissa Leo as Emily’s right-hand woman, Allie. But there’s a moment where she and McCarthy banter about Jodie Foster movies that had me giggling. So, it’s not a complete waste.

Emily’s younger daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby), much like Emily, a child prodigy, helps her mother and Lydia mend their friendship. Falcone struggles to find the right note in attempting to reconcile Emily’s experiences with her daughter’s. Still, he finds a way to allow Mosby and Spencer a moment of tenderness in a movie mostly filled with scene after scene of McCarthy crashing into things.

Falcone does a much better job setting up Lydia’s and Emily’s childhood friendship. The incident that broke up their friendship is an appropriately petty and minor moment that doesn’t require much work to overcome. It’s such a little incident that the road to redemption is all but traveled when Lydia sends a simple text inviting her former BFF to the high school reunion.

Thunder Force is a silly movie that I fear far too many will take far too seriously. I suspect it will enrage a good many people for no real good reason. All I know is, I laughed. A lot. 

Image courtesy of Netflix

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  • Jeremiah

    Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

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