'Like a Boss' wastes talents of comedic cast

  • Best friends and business partners (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne) get financial help from a makeup mogul (Salma Hayek) in "Like a Boss."

    Best friends and business partners (Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne) get financial help from a makeup mogul (Salma Hayek) in "Like a Boss." Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 
 
Updated 1/10/2020 1:59 PM

"Like a Boss" -- ★

"Like a Boss" is the perfect airplane movie: something that won't distract you terribly much while you work The New York Times crossword puzzle during a long flight, periodically looking up at the screen when the 2-year-old in the seat behind you kicks the back of your chair. Oh well. At least that way you won't fall asleep.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In a warm movie theater with reclining lounge chairs, the risk of drifting off is far greater -- which is, quite frankly, shocking, considering this is a Tiffany Haddish movie.

With Rose Byrne, the normally hilarious Haddish plays the co-owner of a small, bricks-and-mortar cosmetics shop named, after the childhood best friends, Mel & Mia's. (You know: the kind of quaint, stand-alone boutique selling hand-mixed foundation and blush that is ground using a mortar and pestle -- the kind of place that doesn't actually exist, except on screen.)

A half-million dollars in debt, Mel and Mia are miraculously bailed out by Claire Luna (Salma Hayek), a predatory makeup mogul who immediately -- and predictably -- begins driving a psychological wedge between the business partners, playing Byrne's Mel (the money-minded one) off against Haddish's Mia (the creative one) so that Claire herself can assume a controlling interest in their company.

Barrett (Billy Porter), left, works for Mia (Tiffany Haddish) until a makeup mogul starts interfering in "Like a Boss."
Barrett (Billy Porter), left, works for Mia (Tiffany Haddish) until a makeup mogul starts interfering in "Like a Boss." - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
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But the power of female friendship is too great, in a movie that keeps hammering that point home, between jokes about sex, marijuana and a baby-shower cake with a doll's head emerging from what looks like an anatomically correct 3-D model you'd find in an OB/GYN's office.

During a preview screening, the laughs were few and far between, even counting that cake scene. The roster of otherwise funny supporting actors -- Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge, Karan Soni, Jimmy O. Yang -- does little to leaven this flat loaf, which isn't just flavorless but half-baked. Case in point: Mel and Mia's product that initially draws the attention of Claire, for instance, is a single-use makeup kit called the One Night Stand, which isn't just a dumb idea, but a wasteful one. As wasteful as the film is of its talent.

As for director Miguel Arteta, a filmmaker who, from his 1997 breakout, "Star Maps," to 2017's "Beatriz at Dinner," has never been afraid to be edgy, even transgressive, it's a mystery why he would make this film, when Hollywood is full of no-name hacks willing to do the job.

True to its workplace-themed title, "Like a Boss" feels like a chore someone was handed. Perhaps oddest of all, Mel & Mia's company is all about selling makeup that doesn't hide a woman's natural beauty. But "Boss" trowels on the clown white, strenuously reaching for nonexistent yuks instead of trusting in the talent of its likable but ill-used cast.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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Starring: Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, Salma Hayek, Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge

Directed by: Miguel Arteta

Other: A Paramount Pictures Release. Rated R for language, sexual material and drug use. 83 minutes

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