– Summary –
Director : Paul Feig
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Tom Wilson, Michael McDonald.
Approx Running Time : 117 Minutes
Synopsis: A stick-in-the-mud FBI Agent teams up with a rough-n-tumble Boston police officer to take down a violent mobster.
What we think : Your appreciation for this film will likely hinge on your ability to get past Melissa McCarthy’s hobo-inspired portrayal of a Boston policewoman, and the manliness with which she imbues the character. The Heat isn’t the aisle-rolling chuckle-junket I’d have liked, but the laughs manage to be more hits than misses; Sandra Bullock almost looks embarrassed in parts of this film, as if she’s desperate to escape it, but on the whole The Heat is a diverting, fitfully amusing female-centric comedy that delivers an entertaining premise with modern-day fun.
The Buddy Cop comedy film genre has been around almost as long as film itself. Two mismatched law enforcement officials – here, an FBI Agent and a Boston PD officer – are put together to solve a case which a) they don’t stand a chance of cracking alone, b) their superior officers believe them to be incapable of solving, and constantly take them “off the case” and c) their clashing personae and general dislike of each other inevitably works towards friendship by the end of the film. If you’ve seen The Heat, you’ll recognize just about every buddy comedy cliche in the book (including the last-gasp “twist” that one of the Bad Guys is not who you think), so calling The Heat anything like “unique” or “inspired” is a complete lie. These kinds of films live or die by the central casting, the titular pair of “buddies” and their personality clashes are what drives a lot of the momentum of the Buddy Comedy film. Oscar winning Sandra Bullock, and Oscar Nominee Melissa McCarthy team up for this female-driven variant on an age-old theme, and the two are about as polar opposite in personality as you can ask for – which makes for a salivating delight for any film critic to enjoy. But does the Bullock/McCarthy pairing work as well as it should, or needs to in order to separate The Heat from the rest of the BudCom pack? Or will The Heat cool down mid-watch?
Synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is a very skilled and effective investigator, but is despised by her fellow agents for her arrogance and condescending attitude. Hale (Demian Bichir), Ashburn’s boss at the New York FBI field office who is being promoted, sends her to Boston to investigate a drug kingpin named Larkin with the promise that she would be considered as his replacement if she can solve the case while showing the ability to work effectively with others. Once in Boston, she is partnered with Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), a skilled but foulmouthed and rebellious police officer with the Boston Police Department. Ashburn’s by-the-book philosophy clashes with Mullins’ rugged and violent style of police work. Mullins discovers the details of the Larkin case by stealing the case file from Ashburn and insists on helping her. Ashburn reluctantly agrees, realizing that she needs Mullins’ knowledge of the local area.
After her breakout performance in 2011’s Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy’s star has certainly risen (perhaps not entirely parallel to Australia’s Rebel Wilson, a fellow “larger framed” female comedienne also having big-screen success) and it’s no surprise to see her headlining films that suit her comedic talents. Whether you find her funny or (like me) not, there’s no denying that McCarthy has captured some kind of zeitgeist of public opinion – her Oscar nom for Bridesmaids felt a little conciliatory, but her singularly one-note style of performance does tend to grate after a while. Anyone who’s seen her “sitcom” Mike & Molly will appreciate the less-is-more approach McCarthy presents as an audience puller. Frankly, I think she’s a supporting actress at best, not a leading one (I wait to be proven wrong, of course), and here we have a film that puts her front and center in the limelight. Backed up, of course, by Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, who is an eminently larger (and safer) draw for audience support. The Heat’s natural charm works thanks largely to Bullock’s “straight woman” role, acting as a foil to McCarthy’s brusque, abrasive character, but even Bullock isn’t enough to salvage the film’s inherent cliches.
The Heat relies on that good old “fish out of water” humor, with Bullock’s Ashburn being the fish, and McCarthy the “old stager” who rolls her eyes every time Ashburn does something silly during the story. Given Ashburn’s predilection for grandstanding, it’s little wonder she clashes with Mullins’ more bullish style of law enforcement. The film makes both characters likeable, yet socially unacceptable through their peculiarities, something out of which good comedy is normally born. Bullock is charming and watchable, while McCarthy is priggish and almost more masculine than many of her male cast-mates. The rest of the cast is dominated by men, including Marlon Wayans as a fellow FBI Agent in Boston, Michael Rapaport as Mullins’ jailbird brother Jason, Michael McDonald as one of Larkin’s henchmen, and Dan Bakkedahl as an albino DEA Agent, in one of the films funnier running gags. Those with sharp eyes will spot Jane Curtin’s miniscule (and thankless) role of Mullins’ mother, who forever disapproves of her daughter’s actions in Jason’s incarceration. And I give this film major props for casting Thomas F Wilson (aka Back To The Future’s Biff Tannen) as one of Mullins’ superior officers. He’s almost unrecognizable, but he’s there.
With the majority of the humor in the film derived from Bullock and McCathy’s clashes, there’s a large amount of genuine heart behind the often foul-mouthed dialogue coming from screen. Both actresses obviously enjoy each others’ company, and their rapport shows through all their scenes together – notwithstanding McCarthy’s style of humor – allowing some measure of comfort for the viewer. This is a film trying to be easy on the eye and ear as possible, in terms of humor. There’s nothing particularly controversial or appalling about the film’s content, neither Bullock or McCarthy (no matter how she tries) accomplish any kind of career defining moments with the roles, and the films punchy editing and hip-sharp soundtrack ensure you’re never bored by what’s going on, or find yourself watching the clock. Yet, for all its slick, well-lit and competently shot intentions, The Heat’s feeling of carbon-copy cobbling of other similar films never quite goes away, nudging at the edge of one’s thinking as you sit down to consider what you thought of it.
Paul Feig, who also helmed Bridesmaids, keeps things ticking along with a broad-scope sense of humor and casually realistic placement of these characters within the real world. The violence isn’t glossed over; people are shown having their heads blown apart, giving impact to what might well have been a possibly “dumbed-down” element of the story, heightening the fact that these characters will end up in genuine peril. The humor is ribald at times, subtle in others, and yet maximizes the screen chemistry of both leading ladies, never undermining the other in favor of one. There’s no romantic element here (with the small exception of the forward-thinking Marlon Wayans character) to concern our female characters with, meaning this film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Both women are strong, independent (if misunderstood) and living their own lives, and where many films might fall back on having a strong male character around which they could pivot, The Heat never goes that way. In this, it’s a pleasing diversion.
The Heat is entirely diverting, sure. It’s sporadically funny throughout, depending on your tolerance for McCarthy’s style of ribald, screeching humor, but the inclusion of Bullock and a rounded male supporting cast allow The Heat to be still entertaining enough regardless. It’s a sketchy, cliche-driven movie, with a plot that pays overt homage to other films of its ilk, (not to mention the albino angle, which is indeed one of the funnier gags in the film) with some scenes that drag on too long and others that doesn’t quite get the point across in their brevity. You get the sense that it’s all supposed to be a bunch of harmless fun, and in most respects it is; go into it with a freshly minted humor ticket, and you’ll probably have a grand time. You won’t find anything new here, though, so that’s the downside. Beer and pizza, a girls night – whatever your movie watching method, The Heat will appeal to some sections of the demographic, and not to others.