April 9, 2021 | 3:00am ET
The Pitch: Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone suit up for Thunder Force. It’s a chummy riff on the superhero craze, built around Lydia (McCarthy), a Chicago forklift operator who likes drinking Old Style on the job and wears her Cubs and Bears merchandise with pride. But also her old friend Emily (Octavia Spencer), a straight-A tech genius, on the cusp of an evolutionary breakthrough developing superhero steroids for (likely) high-paying consumers.
The two are estranged, and as mismatch comedies sometimes begin, one thing leads to another, and soon McCarthy is an ill-mannered Superwoman and Spencer a taser-wielding Invisible Woman. Together they take on “miscreants,” a class of mutant baddies that have plagued society for decades. This is all really pretext for goofy action scenes, chatterbox one-liners, and a decent bit part for Jason Bateman wearing crab hands.
Thunder Force. It’s not super, but it’s alright.
From Zeroes to Heroes: You may point out – and this writer found – plot holes, dramatic inconsistencies, and the general sloppiness of a shaggy hangout comedy. The central duo are pals again after decades of not talking? The villains, prone to monologuing, just keep talking until it happens to be funny? Oh, we’re already on to a new scene, tone, and/or dramatic beat? I also ask: Must we keep diagramming low-stakes comedies like this?
It’s easy enough to nitpick a production like Thunder Force, but mark my words, about six hours later, the feeling is one of a strange fondness for the movie’s weirdo energy. I’d sooner watch this again than another 30 episodes of some Netflix doc about murder. Rather than giving the same notes on a McCarthy/Falcone program, maybe it’s just more fun to accentuate the positive. If you dislike editorial jitters or talky joke-finding, consider Edgar Wright’s bladed humor. But Thunder Force is good at just being itself, which is mild-mannered.
McCarthy being called a “village idiot” by Melissa Leo, only to allow McCarthy to clap back that Chicago isn’t a village, but, in fact, the greatest city in the world? That’s exactly the kind of overly confident dumb comedy McCarthy and Falcone excel at, in their modest way. It’s the kind of comedy where you laugh at Bateman playing a villain with crab-hands, not just because of the ridiculous image, but the fact that he agreed to the sight gag, and committed to it (Old Bay seasoning and sex combine in a way that no one’s likely ever considered until now). Spencer and McCarthy struggling to get out of a sick sports car in their costumes is an easy joke, but then, why do people still take superhero getups seriously at all?
No, this doesn’t sound entirely like a recommendation, but know that Thunder Force elicited enough yuks, smirks, and general acceptance for what Siskel and Ebert would have called a “mild thumbs up” back in the day. There’s occasional sympathy to be felt for the leads, plenty of scenes pop, and there’s the mild joy in seeing familiar and fresh faces do what they’re good at.
Dynamic Duo: At this point, Falcone and McCarthy have a nice cottage industry going. Their On The Day Productions has produced a handful of comedies to varied results. (Life of the Party, The Boss, Superintelligence, all amusing. Tammy? Yeesh.) Thunder Force is ostensibly more of the same, brash joke-making and loosy-goosy trades on McCarthy’s star power to try out goofy ideas in the appreciative hands of Falcone.
Maybe McCarthy doing a Wrigleyville buffoon voice will contort ears. Perhaps people will feel tired of Bobby Cannavale doing his fast-talking shtick for the 17th time in various character roles (personal note: I was fine with it and liked him). Falcone and McCarthy commit to silliness, and that’s something in the rapidly shrinking comedy market. It’s riff comedy, in the vein of Feig or Apatow – let the cameras roll long enough, and you’ll get curious inspiration in the form of McCarthy hard-selling tangents about Fortnite and fancy lighting fixtures.
The Verdict: Better than My Super-Ex Girlfriend, sloppier than Hancock, it’s nothing dynamic but fun all the same. And frankly, not every superhero flick or comedy needs to be the Super-person of its domain. Likability is sometimes an underrated super-power, and Thunder Force is bursting with it.
Where’s It Streaming? Thunder Force rumbles today on Netflix.