Typically it's bad form to drag in a film's ad campaign to talk about the finished product, but Like a Boss needs all the help it can get, so: if you, like me, thought that the trailer for that film was one of the most apocalyptically bad things released into movie theaters in 2019, it will maybe come as a comfort to learn that the film itself is better. If nothing else, Tiffany Haddish is actually playing a character with nuanced line deliveries and recognisably human behavior and everything.  Also, Like a Boss is only 83 minutes long! So it doesn't make us suffer nearly as long as plenty of equally shitty comedies.

Counterpoint: it is possible that a longer Like a Boss would not be so shitty (though given all the available evidence, I assume it wouldn't be any funnier). One of the film's most conspicuous problems is how rushed and shallow it is, moving through at least several weeks' worth of narrative incidents in what feels like a particularly action-packed Thursday. Scenes begin and end at top speed, smacking against each other like billiard balls in a game played by overly enthusiastic first-timers. The shifts in the relationship between the two main characters (one of the two presumptive reasons we're here for any of this; the other is the vindictively unfunny jokes) all happen for purely functional reasons, because the next scene will not happen if they don't fight there or patch things up here. Nothing breathes, nothing develops: it just keeps happening. If the goal here was something like the breakneck rhythm of a great '30s screwball (and I am paying all of the filmmakers a magnanimous compliment indeed by suggesting this even might have been their conscious goal), it doesn't land; those films still offered the sense that the next scene would have some tether to the current scene, and that the next time we saw supporting characters, it would be because the story needed to revisit them, and not because the film suddenly bolts upright and shouts "wait, we could do a ceviche-making scene! We could do a ceviche-making scene right now!"

The figures around whom this nominal story revolves - I would call them "characters", but that would feel like I was lying to you - are Mia (Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne), who've been friends ever since they were teenagers, and Mia's mother took Mel in when the girl was functionally orphaned with a meth addict for a mother. These days, they own and operate a boutique makeup store in New York, selling hand-crafted cosmetics. They're deep in debt, a fact that Mel (the fussy business-minded nebbish of the duo) has kept from Mia (the free-wheeling creative one), but they've still earned enough of a reputation to come to the attention of Claire Luna (Salma Hayek), the owner of a major international cosmetics empire. She's interesting in bailing Mel & Mia's out, in exchange for a controlling share of the company; they're able to talk her down to a mere 49%, at which point she concocts a scheme to turn the friends against each other and steal their ideas, though why exactly a failing artisan brand name would be of benefit to someone who talks about hundreds of millions of dollars as though it was pocket change is a question the film does not get around to answering. Probably just that she's irredeemably evil and spiteful owing to her own failed best friendship from some years back.

The film is populated by collections of lazy stereotypes, starting with Mel and Mia themselves, and going on to their employees, swishy gay man Barrett (Billy Porter) and idiot divorcée Sydney (Jennifer Coolidge), and thence to their utterly tedious socialite friends, who exist mostly to facilitate clumsily-written exposition. This is hard on everybody, especially Coolidge, who gives a mortifyingly shallow performance; the consensus opinion is that Porter is the stand-out, and I guess it's true that he's struggling the least (and Hayek appears to enjoy playing a conniving melodramatic villain), but given the conception of his character - what a pair of white male screenwriters suppose to be a white woman's fantasy of a sexless gay black best friend, straight out of the shtickiest '90s comedies - it's not a terribly exciting achievement.

What Like a Boss does have, at least, is Haddish and Byrne fighting tooth and nail to make something of their characters and their film-driving friendship. They have a terrifically appealing chemistry together, the kind that makes one daydream about a better movie that lets them do the same thing with well-defined, interesting roles and decent jokes to recite. And what little humor the movie presents is mostly thanks to their physical acting: one of the weird tics of the movie is an unseemly addiction to reaction shots, with damn near every narrative or comic beat accompanied by a cut to some character broadly wobbling their face to cue the viewer to have absolutely any kind of emotional response. Both of the leads manage to make this irritating habit work for them: they're both doing fun, rubber-faced mugging that gives them some semblance of internal thought processes. Haddish also gets some excellent opportunities to throw side-eye at all sorts of characters throughout. It's not much, but it's enough that Like a Boss does feel like a halfway decent depiction of a prickly but lived-in and comfortable friendship, one that has indeed lasted for twenty years, one whose loss would be a real tragedy for the characters involved.

Still, a pretty flimsy peg to hang a movie on, and these cartoony facial expressions are just about the only decent comedy in the film. A side effect of having one-note caricatures filling in the entire cast is that every single ostensibly funny line in the film feels like it was generated algorithmically: stiff quips that feel like sitcom catchphrases and have only a glancing relationship to the narrative context that generates them. Every single side character feels less like a witty individual making light of a moment, and rather like a robot doing improv based on a single adjective. Coupled with the overall haste of the movie to burn through its scenes, the jokes feel like an imposition, resentfully included because comedies are supposed to be funny, and not because there was any spark of joy involved in crafting a punchline or surprising and delighting the audience. It is cold and mechanical joke-writing; in this, it fits in perfectly with the cold mechanisms of the rest of this especially lifeless object.