News Column

Review: 'The Heat'

June 29, 2013


June 29--I was prepared to laugh myself silly watching "The Heat." I like to laugh. I like the idea of a female buddy-cop movie. At this point in the summer, I like the idea of seeing anything that wasn't made expressly for teen boys.

I like Melissa McCarthy, too, and just seeing her in trailers for this film made me hope "The Heat" could be closer to the wise and wildly funny "Bridesmaids" that made her a breakout movie star, as opposed to her painfully moronic "The Identity Thief" from earlier this year.

Her new movie fits somewhere between those two pictures as to quality, and that's largely thanks to the pairing of McCarthy with Sandra Bullock being an inspired one. I'd like to see them paired in another better film in the future because too often "The Heat" is a hot mess.

Their physical appearance alone is at least amusing, and that's a good start for a movie about female relationships because appearance is part of the equation, as anyone who laughs at the women's Spanx scene will attest.

Bullock has never been afraid to make herself look ridiculous, and she pulls out her tomboy look from earlier films to play Sarah Ashburn, a driven but dull-as-dirt FBI agent who dresses like an accountant and shows up her male colleagues on cases. Nobody likes her much.

Meanwhile, McCarthy looks like a reject from a 1990 MC Hammer video with her look: boots, baggy pants and vest.

As in-your-face Boston police detective Shannon Mullins, who throws her weight around as if she were a linebacker and who's armed with enough profane insults to make Don Rickles blush, Mullins is a terror who strikes fear in her perps and her fellow officers.

Put these two on a case together and you have the oil-and-water qualities that have informed many a buddy comedy, with a twist: These are women who are good at their jobs and who have chosen career over family and who still fight for the respect that their male counterparts more easily offer to one another.

This unique concept is timely and occasionally thoughtful, thanks to the film's stars who go from ill-willed partners to sisters united with ease. The effect, however, is blunted by being wrapped up inside a weak cop-comedy facade.

Ashburn is sent to Boston to team with Mullins, and they're on the trail of a drug lord who likes to chop up his enemies, and there's some involvement in the case by Mullins' brother (Michael Rapaport) that doesn't make sense, and Ashburn is supposed to be impressing her boss (Demian Bichir) so she can earn a promotion, and ...

Forget all of that information. It's not important.

It's not even important to director Paul Feig of "Bridesmaids," who seems to have considered the script by Katie Dippold (of "MadTV" experience and now a "Parks and Recreation" writer) to be an outline from which McCarthy and Bullock would improvise.

The result is a movie that frequently doesn't make a lick of sense, with actors like Bichir and others looking completely lost, as if they were told, "OK, the ladies are going to freestyle this scene, so just stand there. But stay out of the way."

Despite so much ad-libbing making the film awkward at times, it just as obviously works for Bullock and McCarthy, who put together a string of kooky scenes that don't always advance the story, but which are often off-the-cuff wacky.

Their questioning of a prostitute ends in a brawl. Their nightclub endeavor to plant a recording device is a hoot of physical comedy between this team that acts like Laurel and Hardy with an R rating. Their drinking-and-dancing scene at a senior citizen's bar offers quirky laughs and rapid sight gags.

When "The Heat" works, it's because, like Bullock's character, we also don't feel comfortable with McCarthy's bull-in-a-china-closet personality and "Dirty Harriet" style, and it takes awhile to latch on to Bullock's character, but we do ultimately warm up to them.

We respect them more than the other characters in the movie, and we end up rooting for them a little bit, in spite of our realizing that the women prove they can make a movie that's just as rude and crude as men would make.

Michael Smith 918-581-8479


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