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The Heat

Theatrical Review

20th Century Fox; 117 min

Director: Paul Feig

Written by on June 27, 2013 

While much attention is focused on the fact that Paul Feig’s The Heat is an action-comedy with two women in the lead — much was similarly made of his Bridesmaids two years ago — the resulting film is not exactly a paen to female empowerment. With a clearly bewildered Sandra Bullock trying to keep up with Melissa McCarthy — who’s gone into “John Candy on Red Bull” mode — The Heat is exactly what its trailers are selling: a worn-out, aggressive, and scattershot raunch fest that hasn’t much idea of what it wants to be, let alone how to be about it. When Bullock and McCarthy are in those rare moments of synched harmony, their schtick flies and we laugh. More often than not, you just want to pin The Heat to the ground and read it its rights.

What worked to a point in Bridesmaids — namely, having on-point female comedians tackle the fraternity style shenanigans of the Apatow set — doesn’t sit so well here, mostly because there’s no balance to the performances. McCarthy’s character completely overwhelms the production, and even her most spirited attempts at humor have the effect of knocking the wind out of its pacing.

Between both films, Feig tries for a correlation of ingredients; an intestinal revolution in a public bathroom in Bridesmaids is usurped in The Heat by a do-it-yourself surgery in the middle of a Denny’s. In his new movie, these in-your-face sequences are not so finely chopped, becoming unweildly chunks floating in a greasy stew.

Bullock, who feels decidedly out of her element, plays Special Agent Sarah Ashburn, a buttoned-down professional who must team with reckless, belligerent, and slovenly (it’s the hygiene, not the weight) Boston street cop Shannon Mullins (McCarthy). Working together to take down a Boston drug dealer, Mullins and Ashburn are naturally prickly towards one another, initially, although the animosity is more amusing to observe than the inevitable bonding, which never feels authentic.

Plots and sub-plots weave in and out with the usual flow of buddy cop pictures, but Feig never properly mines the films’ most obvious quirk: that in an effort to circumvent the male-centric aura of the police precinct, these characters essentially become typical guy stereotypes. McCarthy comes closest to engaging this paradox, including some clever scenes where she rebuffs her supervisor by wordlessly ransacking his desk in a hectic search, the superior nonchalantly revealing to Bullock that “she’s looking for my balls.”

Dance scenes, shake-downs, threats of rape and mutilation, and the typical moment where each learns something they probably didn’t need from the other all mark The Heat as a by-the-numbers Lethal Weapon clone with the genders reversed. I admired Bullock and McCarthy for sticking out the wafer-thin motivations and pretense, trying to give their characters some actual dimension. It’s about time, though, that Melissa McCarthy abandoned this particular kind of role, as it abuses her clear talents for vibrant, gusty comedy by pairing them with unnecessary aggression and over-the-top shenanigans. In the cinematic world of worthwhile cop partnerships, The Heat is just an addled rookie.

The Heat opens in wide release on Friday, June 28.


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