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THUNDER FORCE (2021) review

April 9, 2021


written by: Ben Falcone
produced by: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy, Marc Platt, and Adam Siegel
directed by: Ben Falcone
rated: PG-13 (for some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material)
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: April 9, 2021 (Netlfix)


When a comedy isn’t funny, it’s hard for me to keep my external reactions in check. I find myself catching my audible sighs and maybe repositioning the way I sit more frequently, or more noticeably throwing my hands in the air. Then I’ll get a headache from how far back my eyes roll into the back of my head when the unfunny humor continues with no end in sight. At least I was sitting on my couch next to my wife as such a reaction occurred from the latest Netflix comedy and not distracting others in a dark theater. But, then again maybe I’d be doing them a favor. One of the many problems with “Thunder Force” is that no one told writer/producer/director Ben Falcone and the movie’s co-producer and co-star, Melissa McCarthy, that it’s not a funny movie.

This is the fifth movie that Falcone has directed his wife in (as part of their On the Day Productions company they founded) and the two of them should now come with warning label. “Superintelligence”, released this past November on HBO Max, was their last outing and most tolerable, because at least it was trying to do something different within the romantic comedy genre, whereas every other movie they’ve collaborated on (“Tammy”, “The Boss”, and “Life of the Party”) were sporadically crass, mostly unfunny, and ultimately repetitive and interchangeable. Falcone often gives himself supporting roles in these movies and he and McCarthy seem to have the same kind of dated and out-of-touch humor. It’s funny to them, but that doesn’t mean viewers will laugh. Some will laugh, of course, but by and large these are unfunny, tiresome movies with predictable plots, which is what “Thunder Force” is.

The movie opens with an flashback introduction to 1983 (voiceover by Octavia Spencer‘s character, someone we’ll eventually meet), when cosmic rays showered Earth, oddly bestowing super powers specifically on those predisposed with sociopathic tendencies. As expected, these people wreaked havoc on society and were labeled villains called Micreants. In Chicago, one such Miscreant public altercation left booksmart middle schooler Emily Stanton (Bria Danielle), orphaned, leaving her determined to carry on the research her geneticist parents were working on. Her classmate, Lydia Berman (Mia Kaplan), specializes in sarcastic humor and hard rock, and while she may be Emily’s opposite, she has a soft spot for coming to her defense against bullying boys.



The unlikely duo become friends as Emily is raised by her grandmother (Marcella Lowery), but the strength of their friendship starts to show stress fractures when their priorities become increasingly apparent. Emily continues to be a committed and determined student, hoping to continue developing the formula her parents were working on that could offer super powers to those other than sociopaths. Lydia remains a free spirit, provided a needed lightness in Emily’s serious life, she’s also uninterested in academics and begins to drag her friend down. With their diverging paths becoming more clear, the two break their friendship resulting in a length separation.

Thirty years pass and Lydia (McCarthy) remains in Chicago and is a dock worker who is looking forward attending her upcoming high school reunion, hoping there’s a chance she’ll see Emily (Spencer), who is now a renowned scientist. Learning that Emily is in town, Lydia makes her way to her former friend’s high-tech facility in the city overseen by former CIA agent, Allie (Melissa Leo), in an effort to get her join her at the reunion. Meeting up with her old pal is awkward and intimidating for Lydia since Emily has become so successful, but Emily is warm and gracious, albeit cautious, asking Lydia not to touch anything while she’s preoccupied with work.

Of course, Lydia noses around and unintentionally winds up injecting herself with a super strength treatment that will give her incredibly powerful abilities. At first, Emily is distraught and frustrated, since she was hoping to test the formula on herself and now Lydia will have to stay there as they monitor closely how her body changes. In the meantime, Emily will inject herself with the formula that will turn her invisible. The unexpected situation is thrust upon the former friends, who slowly start to figure out how to patch things up, while being reminded of how different they are with Lydia being introduced to Emily’s brainy teenage daughter, Tracy (a charming Taylor Mosby), who works alongside her mother.



With the presence of psychopath Miscreants such as Laser (Pom Klementieff) and Crab (Jason Bateman) running amok in the Windy City during a contentious mayoral race between candidate Rachel Gonzales (Melissa Ponzio) and The King (Bobby Cannavale), Emily intends on teaming with Lydia to form Thunder Force, the first super-powered duo to fight the decades-long plague of Miscreants. Inevitably, The King turns out to be a “corrupt politician” and a bad guy and Thunder Force wind up going up against him and his goons throughout the city.

While the movie starts off with a fairly interesting premise, what becomes promising is this unlikely friendship between these two very different young girls. There’s an intriguing dynamic and once the movie kicks off with the adult versions of Emily and Lydia, the more it becomes clear that more time their younger selves probably would’ve been more entertaining. Indeed, much more could’ve been explored if two teen girls wound up getting powers, instead of estranged fortysomething friends, but Falcone is more concerned with providing awful cliche characterization for his wife and subjecting audiences to a variety of unfunny and overplayed bits.

McCarthy is playing the kind of gruff and sweet Midwest character that she’s played ad nauseam in her previous outings directed with Falcone. This becomes apparent even before her character reunites with Spencer’s Emily. She’s a single boozy hesher who waters down the spoiled milk in her cereal with Old Style…and that’s supposed to be humorous and not just straight-up sad to see a middle-aged person behave in such a way. Even if her character was written for a man (probably played by Adam Sandler), none of this would be funny. Primarily because this kind of adult-child portrayal has been done so often that it’s not just tiresome and annoying, but wholly predictable.



When it comes time to test out Lydia’s new powers, it’s an excuse for Falcone and McCarthy to deliver running gags and rinse-and-repeat humor that falls flat immediately. Montages that repeatedly show how funny it is to see out-of-shape characters physically exert themselves are just simply exhausting to watch. So many supposed comedic moments go nowhere. In an attempt at humor, Emily refers to Melissa Leo’s character as “Jodie Foster”, referencing “Silence of the Lambs” and “Nell” and utterly silences the room, because the other characters in the room “don’t get” her humor and viewers are aghast at how dumb it all is. But hey, if you’ve been clamoring to see McCarthy go on and on with an Urkel impression, wait no more.

There is a connection formed between Lydia and Emily’s daughter that could’ve been developed more, maybe with some needed heart-to-heart moments to add some dimension to these characters. But alas, the focus would rather be on such oddities like Lydia’s gross-out craving for raw chicken since being injected with the formula, which is amplified in a most unwelcome manner once Lydia hooks up with Bateman’s half-man/half crustacean, who shares the same appetite. In fact, the subplot with McCarthy and Bateman is jaw-droppingly bad in every possible way, especially the dinner date they have. It’s just bafflingly unfunny. McCarthy and Bateman have shown that they work together well in the past (see “Identity Thief”), but it’s all cringe-worthy here at every turn. Seeing Bateman donning crab arms with pincers for hands one can easily imagine he lost a bet and is doing Falcone and McCarthy a favor (or maybe he just wanted a break from the heaviness of “Ozark”).



Spencer’s role in “Thunder Force” is surprisingly very close to an afterthought, with the main focus on McCarthy’s forced antics. Absolutely nothing is done with the invisibility powers her character is given, which is a missed opportunity for both comedy and mystery. Lydia is armed with a taser and when she uses it she loses her invisibility. Also, Falcone films Lydia in such a way that when she is invisible, viewers can easily see her…so, what’s the point of being invisible then? If that’s solely for the audience, it just doesn’t work since it elicits more questions. The more I watched these two together, the more I wished they could’ve swapped roles with McCarthy as the smart scientist and Spencer as the sweet idiot friend. That would be something different for sure.

But, different is not what this movie is going for and the sight of seeing to middle-aged, average-sized women become superheroes winds up being a gimmick. There’s even a scene where the two women have a hard time getting out of a slick sports car, which is another overdone bit that McCarthy herself has used in other movies. As if this movie wasn’t so obviously unimaginative, the characters call themselves Thunder Force and Emily keeps the name Lydia gives her, “Bingo”, even though she hates it. It’s a stupid name that hasn’t nothing to do with her powers. That’s supposed to be funny though. It’s not, nor is botched knock-knock jokes and smelly super suits.

A new and different attempt of superhero storytelling is commendable, but that’s not what’s happening here. Even if you’re here for the action, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of dynamism or fun. “Thunder Force” left me wishing I could develop a formula to erase the movie from my memory.





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