Movie Review: ‘The Heat,’ a Brand New Genre of Chick-Flick
Welcome to the first-ever buddy-cop movie starring two women. It’s historic! To the list of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover—you can now add Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.
You might argue that there was “Charlie’s Angels,” but there were three of them. There was “Cagney and Lacy,” but that was TV. There was “Feds,” but it didn’t have bona fide movie stars.
“The Heat” has the stars and brings the funny; it’s a shoo-in for the breakout summer comedy hit of 2013. Somebody say, “Franchise!” Let’s get this party started.
Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is a by-the-book, Yale-educated FBI agent up for promotion. Her boss sends her to Boston to prove herself on a tough drug case.
Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) is a street-smart veteran Boston police officer, highly intolerant of FBI know-it-alls in her ’hood. It’s snooty versus vulgar in a classic “Odd Couple” showdown that’s so classic it’s cliché, but it works well.
While having completely different personalities, they are, after all, both law enforcement professionals and eventually, of course, bond over the recognition and respect of their common ground and respective talents. They go after the bad guys.
When they catch one, there’s an interrogation scene in which Mullins plays Russian roulette with the interrogatee in captivating new ways. Ashburn and Mullins bond over Mullins’s ridiculous super-arsenal (stored in her actual refrigerator), and there’s more beyond-inebriated bonding in the bar. Then, naturally, there’s the prepping-for-the-mission, strap-on-the-gear, and lock-and-load sequence. Time to take down the rest of the bad guys.
“The Heat” has good tension and pacing throughout, immediately capturing attention with the monster funk anthem of the Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power.” The move to Boston is established with power chords compliments of Jack White, which underscores the different racial milieus of New York and Boston.
This being bawdy, R-rated comedy (is there any other kind these days?), racial jokes run rampant, and the use of funky background music in a comedy always immediately recalls the 1970s TV hit “Sanford and Son,” but in more tolerant 2013. The sight gag of a female cop stopping a perp with a thrown watermelon is just all kinds of funny.
According to the press notes, director Feig called the script “one of the funniest I’ve ever read,” and writer Katie Dippold said, “Sandy and Melissa took what was on the page and made it funnier than I thought it could ever be.”
The original breakout role for Melissa McCarthy was in “Bridesmaids,” but the role of Officer Mullins here will graduate her to true movie star. McCarthy handily steals every scene from Bullock, and that’s saying something, since Bullock is one of moviedom’s reigning queens of comedy.
The problem is, while Bullock’s not exactly miscast (in fact, one could argue she’s perfectly cast in her power-alley archetype of zealous overachiever), she does what’s known in acting parlance as “playing an idea” of the role. While slick, this approach always registers as slightly contrived, whereas McCarthy is “playing actions” (it’s called “acting”) and is always therefore more grounded and charismatic—thus naturally pulling focus. Her one-liners are all effortless bull’s-eyes.
In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, the two interrupt Officer Mullins’s family at dinnertime. The actors playing the extended family are a stacked deck of talent, all pro comedians and all from Boston, and so the ensuing hilarious dinner-table insult fest is fantastic. It’s like a high-comedy version of the dysfunctional Bostonian family in the movie “The Fighter,” replete with a “Who’s on First?” type of wordplay-confusion over the Bostonian pronunciation of the word “Narc.”
At the finale, the duo announce themselves with authority: “Who are we? We’re The Heat!”
Oh, yeah. Somebody say, “Franchise!” Let’s get this party started!
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes