Rauch’s Olympic gym­nast tum­bles in caus­tic com­edy

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Peter De­bruge

In the cranky, foul­mouthed tra­di­tion of bad grand­pas, bad teach­ers, bad San­tas and so forth, “The Bronze” un­veils yet an­other vine­gar-spir­ited comedic an­ti­hero: the bad sport.

Cat­a­pult­ing her­self into the pub­lic eye, “The Big Bang The­ory’s” Melissa Rauch stars as Hope Ann Greg­gory, an Olympic has-been who’s rid­den the celebrity of her third-place gym­nas­tics medal about as far as it will take her. Rauch’s caus­tic char­ac­ter sketch feels sim­i­larly over­stretched, land­ing easy laughs over and over with the same joke: a twisted take on the sort of Amer­ica’s sweet­heart even Tonya Harding couldn’t tar­nish.

A true gym­nast would ap­pre­ci­ate the vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble bal­anc­ing act of try­ing to make au­di­ences like a char­ac­ter as un­re­pen­tantly self-ab­sorbed as Hope, a pony-tailed blond brat who stole the bronze medal from the brink of a ca­reer-end­ing an­kle in­jury. Not ev­ery ac­tress can han­dle the task as ex­pertly as, say, Reese Witherspoon did in “Legally Blonde,” nor could most di­rec­tors sell Rauch’s rel­a­tively thin range as ef­fec­tively as first-time di­rec­tor Bryan Buck­ley does. Here, the trick amounts to em­brac­ing just how off-putting the char­ac­ter’s love-to-hate per­son­al­ity can be.

To put it bluntly, Hope is “a spoiled b----,” as it takes her im­pos­si­bly pa­tient sin­gle father (Gary Cole) nearly the en­tire movie to tell her: Within the film’s first reel, she crushes and snorts al­lergy medicine, ex­co­ri­ates her dad, steals ran­dom kids’ birth­day card money from the mail, bul­lies a friendly Sbarro em­ployee and brushes off

MPAA rat­ing:

Run­ning time: 1:47

Opens: Fri­day

Ran as­pir­ing young gym­nast, all while sport­ing the same 3-inch bangs, teeny­bop­per pony­tail and red-white­and-blue warmup suit she wore a dozen years ear­lier. She needs a se­ri­ous at­ti­tude ad­just­ment, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from such films, warm-fuzzy re­demp­tion is on its way.

The script (which Rauch wrote with her hus­band, Win­ston Rauch) in­di­cates ex­actly how things will go when Hope re­ceives a let­ter from Coach P. (Chris­tine E. Abra­ham), the staunch Rus­sian who boosted her to vic­tory. In bro­ken English, the old bat­tle-ax dan­gles a $500,000 re­ward if her for­mer stu­dent agrees to coach 16-year-old Mag­gie Townsend (Ha­ley Lu Richard­son), con­sid­ers Amer­ica’s next great gym­nas­tic hope.

Nat­u­rally, Hope de­spises the idea that some­one from her own home­town — folksy Amherst, Ohio, where the film was shot — might steal her glory. So, in a mon­tage that falls short of its comic po­ten­tial, Hope in­structs Mag­gie to spend her work­out ses- sions “vi­su­al­iz­ing” her ma­neu­vers (in­stead of ac­tu­ally prac­tic­ing them); and takes her around to the un­health­i­est junk food es­tab­lish­ments in town un­til the poor girl de­vel­ops a beer gut.

While Hope sets about try­ing to sab­o­tage the ab­surdly com­pli­ant young ath­lete’s chances, two guys ap­pear with other plans. The first is the sweet, shy gym man­ager (Thomas Mid­dled­itch), who’s had a crush on Hope since her pre-Olympic days, and the other is the cocky, con­quest-seek­ing gold medal­ist (Se­bas­tian Stan). The two char­ac­ters are a study in op­po­sites, each mo­ti­vated to see Mag­gie suc­ceed, both hop­ing to win Hope over in the process, though only one will have the priv­i­lege, re­sult­ing in what’s sure to be the fun­ni­est (not to men­tion most ath­letic) on-screen hookup of the year.

Buck­ley, who’s di­rected more Su­per Bowl com­mer­cials than there have been Su­per Bowls, as well as the Os­car-nom­i­nated short “Asad,” is more con­fi­dent than most in terms of how to light, shoot and cut a first-time com­edy, and though no one would ac­cuse “The Bronze” of not be­ing funny, it some­how man­ages not to be funny of­ten enough.

SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Melissa Rauch plays an ex-Olympian liv­ing off her fame.

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