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Movie reviews: 'Tammy,' 'Begin Again'

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"Tammy" (R) ***(out of four)

Melissa McCarthy provides plenty of laughs in the new road comedy "Tammy," but by the end of the movie – where she once again plays a foul-mouthed, obnoxious misfit – you start to get the feeling that the idea of playing the same role over and over again is starting to run on fumes.

McCarthy stars in the title role in "Tammy," a fast food worker whose beater car slams into a huge deer on her way to work – and that's only the beginning of her disastrous day. From there she runs into big trouble on the job, and an even worse situation at home, which leads to a spur-of-the-moment road trip with her saucy, hard-drinking grandma, Pearl, which quickly spirals out of control not long after the wheels start to roll.

Following the smashing success of "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat," and to a lesser extent, "Identity Thief," McCarthy once again brings her A-game to "Tammy," which is evident from the very beginning when she goes off on her boss (Ben Falcone) in a laugh-out-loud funny scene. Falcone, who's played memorable roles opposite his real-life wife McCarthy in several of her films, turns her loose here, unleashing the actress' best stuff before the film really has a chance to get started. From there, the movie straddles the line between comedy and dramedy, as Falcone and McCarthy mine some nice, poignant moments amid the crazy misadventures of Tammy and Pearl.

While McCarthy is obviously the star of "Tammy," it's the movie's winning cast that nearly steals the show. Sarandon is magnetic as Pearl, and Kathy Bates turns in a charming performance as Pearl's hard-edged cousin, Lenore. The always amusing Allison Janney plays it straight as Tammy's mother, while Gary Cole nails his role as an old lecher who tries to kindle a relationship with an equally-interested Pearl. Not to be outdone, Mark Duplass turns in a winning performance as a potential suitor for Tammy, who underneath all her troubles shows that she can be a bit normal if she just works on it.

Because McCarthy's role choices are starting to become a bit predictable, "Tammy" feels formulaic – and the film would have surely gone off the rails if not for a terrific supporting cast. With any luck, this will be the last time McCarthy plays a loveable loser for awhile, because it would be sad to see such talent go to waste. Hopefully the next ride she takes us on will veer off into a different direction.

"Begin Again" (R) ***(out of four)

Keira Knightley sings. Adam Levine acts. Who knew?

Those are the two biggest surprises in "Begin Again," the latest music-themed drama from "Once" writer-director John Carney. Knightley and Levine play Greta and Dave, respectively, a songwriter and musician couple who move to New York once Dave's career starts to take off. Left in the shadows of Dave's new fame, fate finds Greta performing one of her own tunes in a small venue that catches the ear of Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced former music executive in desperate need of a comeback.

Knightley is the biggest revelation in "Begin Again," who may just have a career in music if she channels her efforts in that direction. She's a wonderful actress, too, which no doubt elevates the burgeoning talent of Levine, the Maroon 5 singer and coach on NBC's "The Voice," who comfortably slips into the role of a musician who falls into the trappings of fame.

The linchpin of "Begin Again," though, is Ruffalo, who brings heart to the uniquely constructed film by trying to re-assemble his broken family life.

Sure, "Begin Again" has its share of plot contrivances – such as Greta and Dan recording an album on the streets of New York City – but who cares? The music is uplifting and the outcome, unlike most romantic dramas, is somewhat bittersweet. It's not your typical summer movie, but for what it is, "Begin Again" mostly strikes the right chords.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Twin Cities radio stations.

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