action-comedies, Ashburn, Bridesmaids, buddy cop films, buddy films, cinema, cop films, Dan Bakkedahl, film reviews, films, Jane Curtin, Lethal Weapon, Loaded Weapon, Marlon Wayans, Melissa McCarthy, Michael McDonald, Michael Rapaport, Movies, Mullins, Paul Feig, Sandra Bullock, Taran Killam, The Heat
After over-dosing on Oscar nominated films in the week leading up to the ceremony, a little break was in order. Taking a few days to catch up on the odd TV show here and there, I returned to the cinematic world with The Heat, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s recent buddy-cop-comedy. Was this Heat on fire or had the pilot-light gone out? The answer, gentle readers, lies beyond.
Sometimes, a film can simultaneously meet your expectations and disappoint them. To be frankly honest, I didn’t go into The Heat expecting much but I was more than open for being unexpectedly impressed. I liked Paul Feig’s previous film, Bridesmaids, but didn’t love it, finding it to be way too uneven and unnecessarily crude. I’d seen pre-release trailers for The Heat that did nothing for me, pitching the movie in a strange place between a straight action flick and a silly comedy, although none of the jokes worked (for me, at least). I like both Bullock and McCarthy in doses but find either one to be rather unbearable in certain roles. This film really could have gone either way with me but, unfortunately, it seemed a bit more content to plow a rather confused middle ground. When it worked, however, The Heat was really something. Too bad, then, that it didn’t work more often.
We’re first introduced to Ashburn (Bullock) in the middle of a big drug bust. She’s the kind of by-the-book, ultra-driven, almost psychic cop (in this case, FBI agent) that seems to exist solely to collect commendations and peer derision in equal numbers. She has her eye on a supervisory position at the Bureau but her boss isn’t convinced that she can play nice with others (spoiler: she can’t). In order to test her mettle for a potential promotion, Ashburn is sent to Boston in order to retrieve a mysterious bad-guy by the name of Larkin. Once there, she must work with a scruffy, foul-mouthed undercover cop named Mullins (McCarthy), the polar-opposite of Ashburn’s stuck-up, Type-A personality. As expected, Ashburn and Mullins get along like water and oil, making it exceedingly difficult to get anything done. With her boss and two pushy DEA agents (Taran Killam and Dan Bakkedahl) constantly on her ass, Ashburn must do the unthinkable: treat Mullins like an actual, honest-to-god person! Will Ashburn and Mullins get their man? Will Ashburn get her promotion? Will Mullins ever go more than two minutes without saying “fuck”? The answers, probably, won’t surprise you.
As with Bridesmaids, the biggest problem with The Heat ends up being its inconsistency. When the film is funny, it’s very funny. Bullock gets several choice moments (my two favorites being the scene where she snuggles with a cat only for it to be revealed that it’s the neighbor’s cat and the point where she apologizes profusely to a mother and infant in a bar only to realize that the baby had no business in the bar) that play against audience expectations and the “fish-out-of-water” element works quite well, at least as far as she’s concerned. McCarthy, though much less consistent than Bullock, also gets some good airtime, although the vast majority of her character’s inherent “humor” seems to come from her ridiculously filthy language, a gimmick which immediately grows old. McCarthy gets one truly bravura scene where she chases a pimp first by car, then on foot, becoming injured in the process but continuing the pursuit (albeit in drastically slowed down form). The chase ends with McCarthy pegging the pimp in the head with a watermelon, more out of frustration than anything else, and the whole thing is perfectly staged.
There’s plenty of choice dialogue, as well, most of it centered around the prickly relationship between Ashburn and Mullins. The two have pretty exquisite comic timing and the best lines (“I’m not trying to be rude,” Ashburn says regarding Mullins’ apartment, “but you could catch a MRSA infection in here.” After staring at her for a beat, Mullins dryly replies: “What part of that wasn’t rude?”) come across as both smart and funny. Unfortunately, the film also has a tendency to wallow in over-inflated action-film clichés (part of the joke, I suppose, like Hot Fuzz) which results in moments like the one where Bullock shouts “You gave me a ring, motherfucker” in her best John McClane mode, only to have it come across as limp parody. As a rule, the two halves fit uneasily together, resulting in scenes like the one where Ashburn performs a very messy tracheotomy in a crowded restaurant. Hot Fuzz had a similar tonal issue but Edgar Wright was much more skilled at giving each side of the coin a cohesive identity…at least more successful than Feig is.
More than anything, The Heat is frustrating because there are constant reminders of the film it could have been, particularly with more judicious editing. The film is long for an action-comedy (almost two hours) and feels every minute of it. In particular, the first 40 minutes of the movie are a drag, although things pick up considerably after the mid-point. Shorn of a good 30-40 minutes, The Heat would have been immeasurably tighter, although this current trend towards “more is better” run times indicates that this trend is only getting started. At this point, I look forward to the first 3-hour A Haunted House film.
Ultimately, The Heat is a fun, flawed and occasionally outstanding action-comedy but pretty weightless. It’s hard to say how this would have ended up with a different director or as a shorter overall film but there’s enough good material here to keep most fans satisfied. Here’s to hoping, however, that Bullock and McCarthy eventually get the starrer that they both deserve: until then, The Heat does a pretty decent job.