The Heat (2013) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence
Running time: 117 min.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Marlon Wayans, Demian Bichir, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Tom Wilson
Small role: Tony Hale
Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: Katie Dippold
Review published July 1, 2013
Bridesmaids director Paul Feig returns for another female-centric raunchy comedy and, for the most part, manages to strike gold yet again, at least in terms of generating requisite memorably funny moments. If you want an example of a film that gets by almost exclusively on cast chemistry, look no further than The Heat, as the terrible plot at the heart of the film feels like it's an afterthought, merely serving as a modest springboard by which to draw this odd couple together for hilarious exchanges.
Sandra Bullock (The Proposal, Premonition) stars as repressed, by-the-book NYC-based FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, who travels to Boston in order to take down a known drug operation in order to shore up a promotion. She thinks she has the situation in the bag, until she's saddled with partnering with Shannon Mullins (McCarthy, Identity Thief), a foul-mouthed, consummately reckless hothead local police officer she definitely doesn't see eye to eye with.
It should be noted that, despite having two female leads, and, in Bullock, one known for being America's sweetheart, that this is one very vulgar movie, with enough F-bombs to give Tarantino a run for his money. The screenplay is only credited to one screenwriter, TV comedy scribe Katie Dippold ("Parks and Recreation, "MADtv") , but you can bet your bottom dollar that the vast majority of the dialogue, and perhaps even entire scenes, are ad-libbed by the stars and director on the spot. A scene that takes place at a Denny's goes off on a complete tangent when a diner, who has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story, begins to gag on a piece pancake, and Ashburn goes to extreme lengths to try to save the guy from choking to death. In most movies, such scenes of gratuitous excess would ice momentum permanently, but here, they're entirely justified; the laughs they evoke, in combination with the tiredness of the main plot, make us not care when Feig forces us to stop and smell the comedic roses.
There are moments of violence in the film, some of them wince-inducing in terms of their graphicness, but credit Feig and company for doing one thing that most buddy cop comedies neglect to do, and that is to keep the laughs coming when the thriller elements must come into play. In fact, some of the funniest moments come from these physical altercations, such as an early scene whereby McCarthy engages in a slapstick-laden foot chase during a shakedown of a drug dealer (Spoken Reasons), or during two scenes later in the film involving the use of knives that elicit the biggest audience reaction.
As far as the performances, they really do save the day in this otherwise formulaic film. One scene involves Shannon trying to coach Sarah to let out her inner slut in order to get close enough to a perp to try to score his cell phone as he is out on a crowded dance floor. A great deal of the comedy in the scene that follows comes, not though anything written in the script, but through the sheer physical performances, well put together by Feig, of the two stars, as well as our belief in the characterizations they've set up during nearly every scene prior. Later on, during the traditional 'bonding in a bar' scene, there's almost no dialogue, but Feig pushes his actors to take things to the limit to where the situations can go without breaking the film by overreaching for laughs.
As much as I like the lead performances and Feig's all-in attitude toward the comedy, The Heat does fall short of Bridesmaids in a few key areas, not the least of which is that we don't care about the main story. Scenes involving Shannon's crass Baw-ston family aren't particularly inspired, and there are too many crutch scenes involving McCarthy brandishing a firearm and pointing it in someone's face for daring to try to get her to do something she doesn't want to do, like, say, using a cell phone in a hospital ER. The hit-to-miss ratio is still in its favor, but given the rather excessive length of a film that barely deals with a plot for long spells, some additional judicious trimming of the occasional comedy dead spots could certainly have gone a long way toward making The Heat a must-see comedy rather than one that is just a tick above passable.
The Heat may not be a good movie from an action or thriller sense, but for those just looking for some zany performances, feel-good tempo, some hearty laughs, and don't mind the perpetual crassness and occasional violence, this is definitely one to put on your radar. If you're of like mind, now that the summer is in full swing, if you're looking for a place to get out of the heat, it might be worth it to get into an air conditioned cineplex showing The Heat.
©2013 Vince Leo