2013 - 117 minutes
Directed by: Paul Feig
Writting by: Katie Dippold
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bechir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Spoken Reasons, Thomas F. Wilson, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam
There has been an unfortunate string of recent comedies that have been more endurance test than fun escapism, and, most importantly, lacked laughs. But perhaps there is hope, as a couple weeks ago “This is the End” and now “The Heat” reassures us that talented performers with workable material can still bring the goods.
A classic formula from first-time feature screenwriter Katie Dippold feels refreshing amid a sea of ill-conceived and clunky concepts we’ve been exposed to. “The Heat” goes back to comedy basics with a pair of mismatched law enforcement officers who team up to take down a ruthless drug lord.
FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is very good at her job, but conducts it with an annoying earnestness that alienates all of her colleagues. She even degrades the drug sniffing dog for his poor performance – all with a smile pasted on her face. In search of a promotion, Agent Ashburn heads to Boston to investigate a series of grisly murders over drug turf.
Immediately upon her arrival, she butts heads with brash local detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy). She’s unkempt, wears the same shabby clothes every day, keeps an arsenal of assault weapons in her refrigerator and describes everything in punchy four-letter adjectives.
Their relationship consists of Ashburn attempting to wrap up the case quickly and by-the-book, while Mullins lobs insults at her and bulls her way through interrogations and searches. This, of course, is nothing new and the premise is totally dependent on the performers – and here it works. Bullock’s agent is uptight but not overly straight-laced, with an underlying sweetness in all of her actions; McCarthy’s detective is brash and rude on the surface, but is never dishonest and faces real stakes with this case.
The way the case plays out is completely illogical, but it stays simple and easy to follow for comedy’s sake. It’s one of those cases that is presented as over-the-top dangerous and unsolvable, but ultimately is resolved by walking into a warehouse with a huge cache of weapons, blowing stuff up (in a comically-bad CGI manner) and shooting a couple people. There is an elusive, Keyser Söze-like figure heading the evil empire, but he (or she) reveals themselves in the end for no real reason other than to be found out because the story demands it.
While the film skimps on logic, it certainly doesn’t shy away from brutality. From graphic pictures of drug-land murders to stabbings, shootings in the head and explosions – and also a poorly executed emergency tracheotomy – “The Heat” definitely earns its R-rating from more than just incessant cursing.
Supporting characters are mostly one-note which lets the intricacies of the plot breathe without becoming too convoluted and also lets Bullock and McCarthy shine. A quasi-love interest for Bullock’s character is provided with Boston FBI Agent Levy (a refreshingly subdued Marlon Wayans); however – and thankfully – the film doesn’t feel the need to force a relationship and keeps their interaction minimal and solely at the initial stages. McCarthy has a familial connection to the case through her brother (an also refreshingly subdued Michael Rapaport), who she sent to jail herself to try and free him from Boston’s drug trade.
Director Paul Feig (re-teaming with McCarthy after their hit “Bridesmaids”), has tightened up the narrative a bit for this film and “The Heat” feels breezier with mostly efficient scenes that don’t run longer than they need to. The comedy does get a bit broad in some spots – the dance floor sequence trying to procure the cellphone of a drug dealer feels like an excuse for forced physical comedy; and I think we need a moratorium on comedic exploration of the South Boston accent.
The albino DEA agent (Dan Bakkedahl) who clashes with the main protagonists also feels a little superfluous. I found it a little odd that we’re supposed to view his misogynic moments as ill-mannered, but Mullins’s shots at his albinism as uproarious. It doesn’t quite work.
While “The Heat” doesn’t mine a ton of new ground, it successfully revives a tried and true conceit that rides the charisma and personality of its two main stars to several laughs. The studio must be pretty confident as well, with a sequel already in development before this film’s release. I don’t think they’re off base, as I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Bullock and McCarthy’s dynamic chemistry take on another case.
© 2013 by Blake Crane