Certificate: 15

Running Time: 99 mins

Star Rating: 3/5

WHAT a difference two years makes. In the summer of 2014, actress Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone ended her winning streak of hilarious big-screen comedies with the misfiring road movie Tammy, which they co-wrote and he directed. Love and marriage didn't come together in a script packed with belly laughs.

Unperturbed by Tammy's critical mauling, McCarthy and Falcone rekindle their unholy alliance in front of and behind the camera for this brash comedy about an egocentric businesswoman, who is forced to rebuild her life after a stint behind bars. The Boss improves on its predecessor in one crucial respect: it is sporadically funny and the ebullient leading lady strains every sinew in her single-minded quest to milk laughs from pratfalls.

However, husband and wife haven't learnt from past transgressions. They haven't invested enough time in fully realising the characters, some gags lack punchlines, and in the closing act, they risk a hostile takeover from mawkish sentiment. Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) was raised at the Blessed Sisters Of Mercy orphanage, where efforts to find the youngster a loving, adopted family ended in crushing disappointment. Emboldened by her humiliating ordeal, Michelle becomes America's 47th richest woman until her dubious ethics result in a five-year prison sentence for insider trading.

She emerges without any friends to greet her. Her bodyguard Tito (Cedric Yarbrough) has abandoned her and long-suffering personal assistant Claire Rawlings (Kristen Bell) has a young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) to nurture.

In desperation, Michelle turns up unannounced on Claire's doorstep and takes up temporary residence on a temperamental sofa bed. From this low-rent headquarters, Michelle doggedly resolves to rebuild her empire by creating a flourishing chocolate brownie business from Claire's moreish secret recipe.

The Boss is a pleasant, fleeting diversion that fulfils the most basic requirement of a comedy: it makes you laugh. McCarthy barrels through every frame with gusto and Bell dutifully plays the straight woman caught in the eye of the tornado.

True, some of the giggles are inelegant and hard won but it's a vast improvement over the tumbleweed of Tammy. Effort exceeds reward throughout Falcone's film, but on the few occasions the script, performances and direction align, it is genuinely funny and sweet.

Damon Smith