‘Tammy’ fails to funny

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New Line Cinema/Courtesy

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It’s finally happened. After innumerable embarrassing and forgettable summer comedies featuring a couple of buddies who go on a bawdy, drunken adventure fueled by boyish stupidity and a refusal to grow up and starring Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill or Jack Black, the female equivalent has arrived. Melissa McCarthy in “Tammy” is painfully dumb, rude, immature, horny, raunchy and gross. You’ve come a long way, baby. Welcome to the loser’s circle.

Tammy is a fat fry cook with a filthy mouth and the self control of a coked-out chimp. In the first five minutes of the film, she crashes her car while driving distractedly, gets fired in a hail of profanity and food contamination, and walks in on her inexplicably sane and well-groomed husband having an affair with someone in his own league. In order to escape the bed of mediocrity she has made, she foists herself on her hapless parents to demand money and/or a car, only to be saddled with her alcoholic grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon). The two have a wacky improbable adventure, score some dong and spend the Fourth of July with the only bright spot in the film, cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates) and her gorgeous wife, Susanne (Sandra Oh).

The jokes are predictable. Tammy is fat and graceless, and much is made of her clumsy pitfalls and regrettable clothing choices. The rest of the film’s humor comes from McCarthy’s wasted, spot-on delivery of jokes, which make Tammy sound dumber than an adult person could possibly be and still be alive. The character that McCarthy always seems to play is distilled here into her basest form; she is an unlovable crass moron who lumps through life, dragging out the utterances of her own shameless ignorance in a way that vacillates between pitiable and repellant.

Sarandon is a talented actress and believable as a diabetic with a death wish, but the script gives her little to work with. Mostly, she fills in as straight man and occasional point of comfort for Tammy, and the comedy happens around her rather than with her help.

Kathy Bates is the grand dame of this film, and thankfully she returns some husk of dignity to the fat women in Hollywood. Bates has traded on her formidable size to be frightening or imposing throughout her career and “Tammy” is no different. As the wealthy lesbian matriarch of the family, Bates delivers the only sensible lines in the film, setting Tammy on her ass and asking her to examine her choices. It’s a little out of tone with the rest of the film and functions as the drama relief when the comedy gets too heavy.

Laughs in the theater at the premiere started out hearty and dwindled near the end, requiring a literal resurrection of the dead to stir the audience in the third act.

Comedians often forget that a stand-up comedy set is better suited to 60 minutes than 90.

There is something to be said for the moment at which women can make films where they are not expected to be attractive — where they are not dressed for the male gaze, where they can be as human and flawed as any Peter Pan syndrome sufferer armed with an Xbox in an Judd Apatow film written for Will Ferrell to shout his way through.

Womankind has arrived at that moment, and “Tammy” is the sweaty, red-faced proof. Melissa McCarthy is the ambassador between the realm of women and the domain of poop jokes. Hail the conquering failure.

“Tammy” is funny in a way that is utterly forgettable. The cameo appearance of Dan Aykroyd near the end of the film almost seems like a salvaging gesture — reaching out to a comedy legend and asking him to stand nearby just to see if the old shine rubs off. There is no shine to “Tammy,” no ache of the cheek muscles or quotable moments. Just a slapstick collection of awkward moments and a character study of the man-boy in drag.

Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].