Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnelle, the 47th wealthiest woman in America, in her latest comedy, “The Boss.” She’s so wealthy that she holds motivational seminars in Chicago’s United Center. She’s so wealthy that T-Pain is her backup rapper. She’s so wealthy, she says, “I had Destiny’s Child reunite and come over to my apartment, just so I could watch them break up again.”
That little trilogy of jokes sums up “The Boss,” a hit-and-miss comedy written by McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed. Some of the jokes are inspired, others squeak by, and still others work solely because McCarthy is such an endlessly talented improviser. How many “so wealthy” jokes did she run through before picking the best ones? Ten, 20, 100?
Those improv skills are both the strength and the weakness of “The Boss,” which leans harder on McCarthy than on its script (Steve Mallory is a third writer) for laughs. Michelle, an empire builder who loathes emotional attachments — her motto is “Cut ’em off and move on” — serves time for insider trading and emerges with no one to turn to but a former assistant, Claire (a very good Kristen Bell). The onetime mogul is now a couch potato. That fairly simple premise takes a while to set up because Falcone lets his spouse riff a little too long in each scene.
Michelle is a familiar figure of fun: the rich snob forced to live like regular folk. We’ve seen versions of her in Mel Brooks’ “Life Stinks,” about a CEO trying to survive on the street, and in the Dan Akyroyd comedy “Trading Places,” about a wealthy stockbroker reduced to poverty. McCarthy gives Michelle a twist: She’s an orphan, entirely self-made and angry at the world. That back story allows McCarthy to tug at our heartstrings, which is one of her greatest skills.
“The Boss” feels more than a little unfocused. Michelle’s upstart brownie empire, sold by hostile tween girls in denim vests, belongs to a different kind of comedy. Still, the movie has moments of inspired goofiness, many provided by an excellent Peter Dinklage as Michelle’s vengeful ex-lover. The fine support cast — nearly all women — includes Annie Mumolo, Kristen Schaal, Margo Martindale and Kathy Bates.