RATING |

The Boss, Melissa McCarthy's pre-Ghostbusters-remake vehicle, could have been so much worse.

That sounds damning, as if the baseline of this movie is already firmly set at mediocre, which it isn't. It's not great, either, but it is better than mediocre.

Blame the marketing campaign, which made it look as if McCarthy was in full-blown character mode (think Identity Thief) rather than her more grounded comedic persona, as in the excellent Spy.

The Boss is a little bit of both McCarthy types. She plays Michelle Darnell, the 47th wealthiest woman in the country. The movie opens as she hosts an arena-filling seminar on how to get rich, complete with pyrotechnics, dancers, and rapper T-Pain. For someone who loves Spy-style McCarthy and hates when she feels this need to go big and mug, it's a bad sign.

Her look doesn't help: Michelle has a shock of red hair, plentiful eye makeup, and a closet full of turtlenecks that would make Diane Keaton jealous.

Yet as The Boss progresses, its main character doesn't wear nearly as thin as one might expect. McCarthy is such a comedic powerhouse that she can play Michelle with incredible physicality and slapstick while also imbuing the character with wit, cunning, and even ruthlessness.

Michelle ends up being a fun character to watch in a movie that may not be able to support her.

Michelle is on top of the world - that is, until a rival and former lover (Peter Dinklage) dimes her out for insider trading. After a short jail stint, she moves in with her ex-assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) and Claire's daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) and attempts to get back on her feet.

To rebuild her empire, she decides to start her own for-profit Girl Scouts-style troop, selling Claire's brownies. It's a nice premise full of female empowerment, atop the rote premise of a loner finding family and community for the first time. But in the third act, The Boss falls apart, and McCarthy is the only thing keeping it watchable.

That's a testament to her incredible screen presence. With an experienced comedy director - such as Paul Feig, who helmed Spy and directed her coming Ghostbusters reboot - McCarthy can do legendary work. But even with a less-talented guy in the director's chair - her husband, Ben Falcone, directed this one, as he did 2014's Tammy - she can still salvage a movie.

McCarthy incorporates so many shades and layers into a character who should be irritating, propping up a flimsy movie that will most likely be a footnote in her brilliant career.

The Boss
Directed by Ben Falcone. With Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, and Tyler Labine. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 mins.
Parent's guide: R (language, violence, sexual situations).
Playing at: Area theaters.