By JOCELYN NOVECK
AP National Writer
Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) are two women in their 30s who don't need men to make them happy, though they'll gladly use them for fun. They're best friends and roommates, comfortably unmarried, and focused on the small cosmetics business they've formed together.
So far, so good, right? Maybe at the dawn of the new decade we've found a way to dust the cobwebs off the traditional rom-com, shedding tired, gender-stereotyped formulas and starting afresh in the #MeToo era?
Eh, maybe not.
Despite a briefly promising beginning, "Like a Boss" soon proves itself disappointingly shallow, a wanna-be female empowerment movie with a paper-thin plot seemingly concocted in 20 minutes and scrawled on the back of a napkin.
In other words, it feels like a January movie.
The real shame here is how "Like a Boss" wastes the genuine comedic talent and chemistry of its leads, Haddish and Byrne, each charming in her own way and each deserving of a much better script. The same goes for Salma Hayek as a cartoonish villain, a cosmetics magnate who proves the cinematic rule that in order to be successful atop the corporate ladder, a female character has to be ... well, you know what it rhymes with, and it ain't "poor."
It also goes for the two supporting characters played by veteran comic actress Jennifer Coolidge and "Pose" star Billy Porter, as Mia and Mel's employees. Porter has perhaps the most genuine laugh-out loud moment in the film when, at a moment of great humiliation, he barks at his two bosses to "Witness my tragic moment!" — then milks his hilarious exit for all it's worth. The real tragic moment, though, is the realization that Porter could have been given so much more to do in this half-baked enterprise.
When we first meet Mia and Mel, lifelong friends since childhood, things seem to be going well enough. The two brush their teeth in the morning and discuss the benefits of dream sex with men, as opposed to the real-life version. "When I'm done, they're done!" chirps Mia happily.
In their small makeup boutique, they've made a name for themselves emphasizing quality over quantity, and the value of a woman's natural beauty over artifice. Mia is wont to give discounts out of kindness.
What she doesn't know, partially because she has no business acumen whatsoever and partially because Mel can't bear to tell her, is that their company is in debt, to the tune of nearly half a million dollars. By the time Mel confesses this, they're well on their way to ruin.
Enter Claire Luna (Hayek), a Cruella Deville type who stalks the halls of her corporate empire with a golf club, ready to smash anything she feels like smashing. Everything about Claire is exaggerated, from the color of her hair to the thickness of her accent to the dimensions of her physique. When Mia tells Claire not to "worry her pretty little head" over something, Claire replies: "My head isn't little. It's just that my breasts are humongous."
Claire tells the women she wants to invest in their company and pay off their debt. She'll get 49 percent, but, according to the deal, she'll get a majority 51 percent if Mel and Mia's relationship frays and one of them quits. In essence, Claire is betting on Mia and Mel to fall apart.
Feeling empowered yet, ladies?
Luckily though, we have a vagina cake, served at a baby shower, to distract us! And plenty of other references to female reproductive anatomy — and male equipment, too, earning the film its R rating. We also have a karaoke sequence — as any female friendship comedy must. And Haddish gets to choke on overly spicy peppers, projectile vomit some goat's milk onto her friends, and wind up on the toilet — because, why? Director Miguel Arteta, who has made much more substantial movies ("The Good Girl," for example) and screenwriters Sam Pitman and Adam Cole-Kelly seem to be going here for a fresh, funny and edgy "Bridesmaids" vibe (gastric distress scene included). But they mostly forgot to bring the fresh and the funny — and the edge.
Oh, and we're supposed to think, by the way, that Mia and Mel are satisfied in their sex lives by having sex without obligation — in Mia's case, with a friend with benefits, and in Mel's case, the occasional tryst with a handsome dumb guy she can't kick out fast enough in the morning. God forbid they should be able to have decent, satisfying relationships with men while ALSO succeeding at their jobs.
There could have been plenty to mine here, if you wanted to: not only about workplace relationships between women, but about a decades-long interracial friendship, or the sacrifices women still have to make when trying to combine work and life — all issues that could have been considered while still entertaining us with the comedic gifts of both Haddish and Byrne.
We'll have to wait for that movie.
"Like a Boss," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America "for language, crude sexual material, and drug use." Running time: 83 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
___MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian