"Tammy," starring Melissa McCarthy as a fast-food worker who embarks on a life-changing road trip, marks the popular actress's attempt to bottle her magic and sell it herself. In several hits for other filmmakers, from "Bridesmaids" to "The Heat," McCarthy used her size and talent to either steal the show or carry it to the box-office herself. Along the way, she also crafted a new kind of female persona, one usually reserved for male comics like John Belushi or Jonah Hill: the crass slob with a heart of gold.
McCarthy wrote and produced "Tammy" with her husband Ben Falcone, who also directs. It plays to all her strengths, which turns out to be exactly the problem. Without a strong story or well-defined character to guide her, McCarthy resorts to old tricks and repeated routines.
She's aided by some fine actors, though they're as random as their roles: Susan Sarandon plays Tammy's alcoholic grandmother Pearl, who insists on joining the journey, and she can't help but sparkle even in gray-frosted hair and high-water pants. Kathy Bates does a little show-stealing herself as half of a wealthy lesbian couple (with Sandra Oh). Mark Duplass, underwhelms as a bland cutie named Bobby, though it's somewhat amusing to watch a man struggle in the kind of thankless love-interest role that young actresses have endured for decades. Allison Janney, Toni Collette and Dan Aykroyd also get a few lines.
What sinks "Tammy" even more than its shaggy script -- a loose collection of light slapstick and colorful encounters -- is Tammy herself. McCarthy plays her as a thoroughly toxic combination: bossy, whiny, hostile and dim. A few soul-bearing scenes, the kind that endeared us to McCarthy in other movies, have been forcibly inserted into the story, but they never ring true. Rather than burnish McCarthy's newly-minted star, "Tammy" takes off some of the shine.
PLOT A woman shakes up her dead-end life by taking a road trip with her eccentric grandmother.
CAST Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Mark Duplass.
BOTTOM LINE McCarthy plays to her strengths but misses the mark in this uneven comedy.