The Heat: Film Review
Paul Feig's comedy stars Sandra Bullock as an uptight FBI agent and Melissa McCarthy as a crass Boston street cop.
“Do you have to use that language?” Sandra Bullock's uptight FBI agent complains after hearing one too many scatological blasts from the potty mouth of Melissa McCarthy's Boston street cop. Well, hell, of course she does, or there wouldn't be much life in The Heat, an obediently formulaic hostile-buddy comedy that achieves all its mirthful mileage from the abrasively combative relationship between the two competitive women. The script's simpleminded shenanigans notwithstanding, the two stars sync up better than their characters do, especially with some rough-and-tumble physical slapstick, resulting in a crude, low-brow audience-pleaser that will hit the funny bones of both performers' fan bases and gain additional commercial traction as the most female-centric release of the summer.
McCarthy and director Paul Feig shared their big-screen breakthrough on Bridesmaids two summers ago while, earlier this year, the actress scored an equally big hit with the one-note Identity Thief. Disappointingly to those who might be expecting something more sophisticated from Feig, The Heat is a lot closer to Identity Thief than to his own previous work in that it depends inordinately on the amusement value of McCarthy making a brash, bad-ass spectacle of herself, shoving people around, telling them off, bullying everyone in sight and generally using her bulk and bad attitude to get her way.
The act is admittedly still funny, but you can sometimes feel the strain to on the part of script writer Katie Dippold (TV's Parks and Recreation, MadTV) to invent ever-more outrageous epithets for McCarthy to spew at everyone who gets in her way, which is just about everyone. Whether you're a street punk, her browbeaten supervisor or the fookin' Queen of England, it doesn't matter to her sartorially challenged detective Shannon Mullins, who makes her first big impression by throwing a watermelon at a young black drug dealer.
Initially, this female Mack truck rolls right over Bullock's interloper Sarah Ashburn, an overachieving straight arrow who's been sent from New York by the Feds to nail the same drug kingpin Shannon has been pursuing by targeting low-level dealers and thugs, including her own brother (Michael Rapaport), whom she personally got thrown in the slammer. Sarah's promotion to a top bureau job depends on wrapping up this case, but nothing she learned at Yale has prepared her for dealing with the likes of Shannon and her family, a group a bickering Beantown blowhards that makes the working class clan in The Fighter look like candidates for the Social Register.
Feig's timing and editing rhythms feel off at the outset, before the two women meet. But once Sarah's astonishment that such a woman as Shannon even exists morphs into an acceptance that she's going to have to co-exist with her somehow, the two performers' begin to click in ways that are amusing simply on the level of good shtick and a near-Three Stooges level of physical comedy. Particularly diverting in this vein are three extended set pieces: A girls' night of drinking that's loaded with gags and loosens Sarah up; a nightclub sequence in which Shannon transforms Sarah's prim suit into something sufficiently trashy for her to hit the dance floor and attract their sleazy suspect; and a pretty out-there jeopardy situation in which the only possible means of escape for the two bound women means somehow extracting the knife that a bad guy has plunged into Sarah's thigh muscle.
Otherwise, the attempts at comedy spring almost exclusively from degenerating every scene into a dispute. Shannon interprets nearly every situation as a personal affront, as a red cape worthy of charging, and one of the little life lessons tucked into the script is how Shannon needs to lay back and roll with things better. For her part, Sarah's a know-it-all whose arrogance needs to be taken down a few pegs; she's forced to admit that she really has no friends and Shannon is perfectly happy to let her know why.
Compared to Bridesmaids or even to last summer's Boston-set surprise comedy hit, Seth MacFarlane's Ted, The Heat is awfully simplistic, a collision of opposites that sets up obvious, sitcommy standoffs, shout-downs and physical pranks. As ever, McCarthy is more than willing to let her weight be the butt, as it were, of embarrassing jokes, as in a pretty funny scene in which she parks her old Rambler (perfect car casting) in too narrow a spot, can't open the door wide enough and struggles desperately to get out. For her part, Bullock loosens up after prolonged exposure to her rowdy co-star and becomes appealingly self-deprecating. Even though the characters reach a friendly rapprochement by the end, surely all concerned will have no problem reigniting some friction between the pair to facilitate a sequel or two for this effective new comedy team.
Opens: June 28 (20th Century Fox)
Production: Chernin Entertainment
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Tom Wilson
Director: Paul Feig
Screenwriter: Katie Dippold
Producers: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping
Executive producers: Paul Feig, Michele Imperato Stabile, Dylan Clark
Director of photography: Robert Yeoman
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Costume designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
Editors: Brent White, Jay Deuby
Music: Mike Andrews
R rating, 117 minutes