On paper, “Tammy” sounds like a winner: a road-trip comedy with Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon as traveling companions who are also granddaughter and grandma.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon.
Rating: R for language including sexual references.
But the paper — or, specifically, the screenplay by Ms. McCarthy and director-husband Ben Falcone — is the problem. It finishes on a high note but goes slack along the way and seems to rely on the casting of big names in small roles (hey, that’s Toni Collette or Dan Aykroyd!) instead of consistently bright writing.
It can seem labored or uneven, with the fast-food robbery that is the centerpiece of the ad campaign funny but Ms. Sarandon’s hard-partying Pearl is, by turns, impetuous, sexy, selfish and then a mean drunk.
Ms. McCarthy, the “Mike & Molly” star and Oscar nominee for “Bridesmaids,” is the title character, an Illinois resident whose car strikes a deer in the opening scene, setting off a series of disastrous developments. The accident makes her late for work at a fast-food restaurant where she is fired (Mr. Falcone plays her boss), sending her home early where she finds her husband having a romantic meal with a neighbor.
Tammy turns to her mother (Allison Janney), who rebuffs a request to borrow her car. “Are we really going to do this?” she asks, recounting how Tammy has a habit of storming out of town, never getting more than 10 miles away and then coming home.
But when grandma Pearl (Ms. Sarandon) hears talk about escaping, she offers her Cadillac and a roll of cash. And Tammy and Pearl are off, ostensibly for Niagara Falls, but a wrong turn and a change in plans land them in Louisville, Ky., and at a club where they meet a father and son, played by Gary Cole and Mark Duplass.
Too much alcohol and too little good judgment derail and jail them before more detours, familiar faces such as Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh, and some hard truths about the direction of their lives. The big finish is like a grand dessert after a meal with so-so food and inattentive service.
Ms. McCarthy is clearly game for anything, especially the sort of physical comedy she does so well as she tries to vault across a fast-food counter or drunkenly slides off the hood of a car, and Ms. Sarandon dresses and looks the part of a youthful grandmother, with gray hair, short-sleeve blouses, knit slacks and swollen diabetic feet. In this movie, as opposed to “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and “Identity Thief” opposite Jason Bateman, Ms. McCarthy’s character isn’t always the wilder one.
To save you from Googling, Ms. Sarandon is 67, Ms. Janney is 54 and Ms. McCarthy is 43, which means their casting as grandmother, mother and daughter only works through magical movie math.
They are three terrific comic actresses dealing with mainly middling material that is either anemically conveyed (a cousin says Tammy’s been “bellyaching” for years about her lousy life but never does anything to change it) or more melancholy than merry as with a man who thinks it’s OK to cheat on an ailing wife. That explains why he is not free, but it’s a dreary distraction in a comedy that too often disappoints.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632.