Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 9th, 2021
Thunder Force (Ben Falcone, 2021) 1 out of 4 stars.
Written and directed by Ben Falcone (Superintelligence) as, no doubt, a star vehicle for his wife, Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Thunder Force has its occasional (rare) moments of comedic fun. Unfortunately, they are too few, and too far between. A mostly listless work that squanders a somewhat promising premise and delivers only minor laughs, the movie is harmless enough, except to those who value their time.
McCarthy plays the adult version of one Lydia Berman, childhood friend of Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer, Luce). We meet them first when they’re in elementary school, with Lydia (McCarthy and Falcone’s daughter Vivian) defending Emily (Bria Danielle) against bullies. Flash-forward to adolescence and they are BFFs (with Mia Kaplan and Tai Leshaun in the roles), though Emily’s academic brilliance and Lydia’s lack thereof threaten to drive a wedge between them. Sure enough, come end of high school, they go their separate ways, and none too pleasantly.
Many years later, and Lydia is a functional alcoholic who drives a forklift. Emily, it seems, has made good on the promise of her scientific precocity and is now both very wealthy and on the verge of a major breakthrough. Which brings us to the part of the story I have so far neglected. In an exposition dump that kicks off the whole affair, we learn that this is a world where, in 1983, some kind of cosmic rays struck the Earth, transforming certain folks into superpowered beings. Unfortunately, for reasons never really explained, only the psychopaths were so blessed, and one of them killed Emily’s parents. And so her life has been a search for the formula to make nice people strong, too.
Enter Lydia, who crashes Emily’s workplace to drag her to a high-school reunion. One thing leads to another, and Emily somehow gets part of the formula meant for Lydia, forcing them to share the powers, one getting muscles and tough skin, the other invisibility. Together again after over 20 years apart, they decide to become a crime-fighting team, the titular Thunder Force. Cue hilarity.
Or not. Oddly, the mayhem is far too inert, and though the likes of Jason Bateman (Game Night), Bobby Cannavale (The Jesus Rolls), Pom Klementieff (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and Melissa Leo (Furlough) join the fray, nothing much seems to come of it. The jokes too often fall flat, and given the off delivery, one wonders if everyone were not stoned during the making of it. It also really bothers me that, for no discernible purpose, Bateman’s character is always unshaven. That character decision just reeks of … lack of decision.
As always in these kinds of odd-couple pairings, the intelligence of the nerd is only superficially explained and the working-class (lack of) smarts of the big lunk is played for ridicule. That’s an old model, in dire need of updating. Just like the script of Thunder Force, which requires a few upgrades to bring that cinematic lightning it sorely lacks.