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‘Thunder Force’: Superpowers turn two likable actors into an anemic duo

The transformed Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer are no match for lazy, gross-out jokes and mediocre action sequences.

Melissa McCarthy (left) and Octavia Spencer play lifelong friends getting used to their new superpowers in “Thunder Force.”
NETFLIX

It’s always a shame when a group of talented humans get together and deliver something that comes across as a halfhearted effort, even if they poured their blood, sweat and tears into it. Such is the case with the alleged action-comedy titled “Thunder Force,” and I’ll start with this:

During one of the many lulls in the plot, co-stars Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy get into a discussion about Glenn Frey and in particular his song “Smuggler’s Blues,” eventually singing along with the tune. Later in the story, they hear “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal, and they sing along with THAT pop hit.

You know what’s kind of fun? Singing along to classic tunes. You know what’s almost never fun because it’s so overdone? People in a movie singing along to classic tunes.

(We also get a dopey fantasy dance sequence set to “You Belong to the City.” Writer-director Ben Falcone — McCarthy’s husband — must really be a fan of Glenn Frey songs that were used on the old “Miami Vice” TV show.)

The pop culture nods and the Chicago-centric references fly in “Thunder Force.” McCarthy does an Urkel impersonation and calls one overly serious female executive “Jodie Foster,” and there are numerous shoutouts to the Bulls and the Bears, and even “The Super Bowl Shuffle” and Jim McMahon’s sunglasses. (A cop also refers to a crime on “Grand Street” instead of “Grand Avenue,” sigh.) All well and good — but while “Thunder Force” is set in Chicago, it was filmed in Atlanta save for a few establishing shots, and it looks like a Chicago-set movie that was filmed in Atlanta.

Geographical groans aside, it’s also a feeble superhero comedy with lazy, gross-out jokes, mediocre action sequences, some bad sitcom-level acting and the appearance of Jason Bateman as a criminal who has crab legs for arms, and you read that right: crab legs for arms. Imagine the hilarity, or lack thereof, when this guy goes out to dinner and the waiter suggests the seafood tower! SMH.

The world is overrun by mutated bad guys including The Crab (Jason Bateman, left, with crustacean arms) and The King (Bobby Cannavale).
Netflix

“Thunder Force” kicks off with comic-book style graphics as we’re told, “In March of 1983, a massive pulse of interstellar cosmic rays struck the Earth [and] triggered a genetic transformation in a select few, unleashing unimaginable superpowers … unlocked in rare individuals who were genetically predisposed to be sociopaths.”

I hate when that happens.

After an overlong prologue set in the late 1980s, we pick up the story in present day, with Melissa McCarthy’s working-class gal Lydia reconnecting with her estranged childhood best friend Emily (Octavia Spencer), who runs a powerful tech company called Stanton 4.0. Ever since Emily was a little girl and her parents were killed in a CTA train explosion caused by a miscreant (that’s the name given to the evil mutants) she has devoted her life to receiving the education and training necessary to develop a genetic platform that will give ordinary, decent people superpowers so they can fight back against the miscreants. Now, finally, Emily has achieved her goal — and that’s when Lydia bumbles her way into accidentally receiving the first treatment that will give her superhuman strength.

There’s no going back, so Lydia continues to receive the very painful (and painfully unfunny) injections to make her ultra-powerful, while Emily takes a series of pills that will give her the powers of invisibility. Put the duo together and you have … Thunder Force! Capable of squeezing into a purple Lamborghinis (cue the sight gags of McCarthy and Spencer struggling to get into and out of the car) and fighting crime all over Chicago/Georgia!

Bobby Cannavale hams it up as “The King,” a psychopathic crime boss running for mayor who loses it every time someone calls him just “King.” Pom Klementieff is the villainous and quite uninteresting Laser, who shoots fireballs at everything and everybody and speaks in bad Bond villain accent.

And yes, Jason Bateman is “The Crab,” who became half-man, half-crustacean after a horrific accident and is conflicted about his life of crime, especially after taking a liking to Lydia. (On a dinner date, he tells her he’s actually just “half-creant,” which she mistakenly hears as “half Korean.” In case you didn’t cringe the first time, the alleged joke is repeated in a later scene.) I didn’t think it was possible to ever tire of Jason Bateman and his spectacularly unique way of putting the perfect spin on even the most innocuous of lines (a skill equaled only by Robert Downey Jr. and a handful of others), but it doesn’t take long for The Crab to grate on me to the point where I wanted him to buzz off, pincers and all. Like everyone else in “Thunder Force,” he’s mired in a thunderously bad film.