Melissa McCarthy and her writer-director-husband, Ben Falcone have basically created an assembly line for movies featuring her as brassy underdogs. Last year’s Superinteligence, which debuted on HBO Max, gave McCarthy a softer, less obnoxious character to play, but Netflix’s Thunder Force goes back to her wheelhouse: loud slapstick. Although the movie is shockingly dull and typically lowbrow, it does showcase a friendship that gives the movie some human interest in what is otherwise a pretty big mess.
In Thunder Force, Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) accidentally gives her high school bestie, Lydia (McCarthy), superpowers when the two reconnect before their reunion. Emily has worked her whole life to realize her parents’ research so that she can fight back against the “Miscreants” who run amok with powers of their own. Now that Lydia has superstrength, the friends team up (along with Emily’s daughter, Tracy, played by Taylor Mosby) to fight against Chicago mayoral candidate “The King” (Bobby Cannavale) and the Miscreants who do his dirty work, including The Crab (Jason Bateman) and Laser (Pom Klementieff).
Thunder Force features all the Melissa McCarthy standbys—gross food jokes, weird mismatched romantic relationships, an underdog who is kind of loveable and kind of irritating. What it does not have is much humor. There was so much potential in the plot, but the movie spends too much time on the budding romance between Lydia and The Crab that it does not fully develop the superhero thread and the hilarity that could have been with McCarthy’s genius for physical comedy. This is definitely the kind of movie that you can watch on a weekend evening without investing much attention, but it also does not provide much real entertainment value. That failure to deliver is a real shame considering how talented McCarthy and Octavia Spencer are.
Thunder Force was written and directed by Ben Falcone. It runs 1 hour 46 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material.
In another Netflix release, Stowaway, a trio of scientists are on their first day of a research mission to Mars when they discover an engineer passed out in the ship. Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), and Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), have to figure out what to do about the stowaway, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), especially once it becomes clear that the ship does not have enough resources to get all four of them safely to Mars.
Much like Thunder Force, Stowaway fails to really deliver on its potential. The premise is fascinating and the performances are outstanding. With limited sets and characters and a tight timeline, Stowaway could have combined intense suspense with its outstanding character development to provide a great space movie that is a little bit Apollo 13, a little bit Twilight Zone. Instead, it really just fizzles out. The abrupt ending was perhaps a brave creative choice, but it also made me want to throw the remote. I wanted just a bit more from the characters. Nevertheless, there is so much good in the production that it is worth checking out.
Stowaway was written by Ryan Morrison and Joe Penna, who directed. It runs 1 hour 56 minutes and is rated TV-MA, perhaps for some language, but I’m not sure why, honestly.
Over on HBO Max, the new limited series Mare of Easttown offers an unsettling murder mystery that has the look and feel of a British crime drama. Set in a small Pennsylvania town, the show focuses on Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) as she investigates the murder of a young mother while her own family begins to unravel. Against the backdrop of the Sheehan family’s own grief and the unsolved murder of another young woman, the show provides outstanding characters and a tense mystery. My review is based on the first two episodes. New episodes are released Sunday nights.
Kate Winslet is a force and this role gives her plenty of opportunities to showcase her talent, despite a somewhat rocky accent. The development of the characters in Easttown is nuanced and vivid so far, giving the murder and Mare’s family drama plenty of emoitonal weight. I look forward to a new episode each Sunday. Perhaps comparing movies to a series is unfair, but of the three productions reviewed here, this one is easily my favorite. So far.
Mare of Easttown was created by Brad Ingelsby. It will run for seven episodes, approximately one hour each. It is rated TV-MA for violence, language, and sexuality.