Escapade that goes off the rails
Comedy/97 minutes/Opens today
Melissa McCarthy plays the title bad-luck gal who, shortly after the movie opens, hits a deer and is hit in return, walks away from her broken-down car and into the rest of her tumbledown life. Her grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) joins her in a rambling road trip in which Tammy crashes a jet ski and commits armed robbery.
HOW do you solve a problem like Melissa McCarthy? That question feels inescapable after watching her try to powerlift Tammy, her newest and least funny comedy, all by herself.
Like many fools, Tammy is often blissfully unaware of her limitations. She may be dumb, but she barrels through life with pluck, as her encounter with a remarkably resilient deer shows.
Repeatedly knocked down throughout this knockabout comedy, Tammy takes a licking and keeps on sticking her foot right back into it.
She's a total loser, except in the comedy of misfortune.
McCarthy co-wrote the script with her husband Ben Falcone. He directed the film, and the couple take care to sketch Tammy's inner and outer world.
In short order, she loses her car, her job and her husband in ways that suggest that her dignity was lost long ago.
The bust-up of her marriage shakes her, but she doesn't linger in her broken home or indulge her heartache.
Instead, she throws some clothes into a suitcase - it promptly falls apart, disgorging its sad contents - and marches to her mother's house a few doors away.
When Tammy tells her mother Deb (Allison Janney) that she's leaving town, you may cheer at the thought of a great escape. And when Tammy's grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) announces that she's going with her (she has cash and a blue Cadillac), the film-makers seem to be priming the story for an inter-generational riff on Thelma & Louise.
Sarandon played the trigger-happy Louise in that righteous classic, but here she's more or less playing Abbott to McCarthy's Costello, complete with grey curls, leisure wear and artfully swollen ankles.
Road movies are invariably stories of self-discovery, and that's meant to be the case here. Tammy and Pearl hit the road, bottles, bars, the other sex, and occasionally each other.
They bumble, fumble and stumble, landing in and out of trouble, sometimes humorously, sometimes less so.
They meet men, including a hard-drinking, hard-loving farmer Earl (Gary Cole) and his bland, smiling son Bobby (Mark Duplass). They spend time in a lesbian utopia with Pearl's cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates), who dispenses bootstrap ideology and lives with a near-silent partner Susanne (Sandra Oh).
Time and again, the movie resorts to blunt comedy bits, including scenes built around Tammy's penchant for junk food.
The jokes about Tammy's eating habits - and her appetite for burgers, pies and doughnuts - aren't especially funny and, after a while, register as both tedious and borderline desperate.
That's not especially surprising: Such movies are not kind to fat people and, especially, fat women.
But the radicalness of McCarthy's success - she had two hits last year, The Heat and Identify Thief, in the Top 20 - is that she's a beautiful, funny, wildly popular female comic with terrific timing, movie star presence and oodles of charm.
That she also happens to be fat may be historically notable although it is, finally, the most ordinary thing about her.