Despite a promising cast, premise and direction from Paul Feig, The Heat just isn’t that hot.
A take on the ‘80s buddy cop film, a premise which itself has become worn these days, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star as two polar opposites who are nonetheless forced to work together and find they have more in common than they’d like to admit. Of course, just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it can be done well again. And as charming as The Heat can be, especially its two leading stars, it just never reaches the heights it’s aiming for, nor the heights of Paul Feig’s previous effort — and McCarthy breakout film — Bridesmaids.
The problem is that the script by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation) hits all the right beats for the buddy cop genre, it just doesn’t do anything new with the formula besides casting two females in a male dominated genre. But just as “male” films are never designated as such, that means that “female films” should also not be singled out for its gender dominated cast. If the film proves anything, like Bridesmaids did, it’s that a good film is a good film regardless of gender, something it really shouldn’t have to do in the first place.
Whereas the surprise hit 21 Jump Street found original ways to exploit the clichés of an ‘80s action comedy, The Heat sticks to the plan without offering anything but Bullock and McCarthy. In that sense, Feig relies heavily on McCarthy to flesh out scenes with her Will Ferrell-reminiscent, profanity-laden diatribes. These are McCarthy’s forte, and she’s great at it, but the film needs a stronger backbone. It, more or less, is an amalgam of Miss Congeniality and the aforementioned ‘80s buddy cop flicks like Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, and, even, Midnight Run.
Bullock is the uptight FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn whose arrogance and formality has caused a rift among her and her fellow agents. Hoping for a promotion, her boss is skeptical due to her unpopularity and sends her to Boston under the guise that if she can handle the case, he’ll consider her for the spot. Bullock’s ability to at once be both funny and entirely grating is a testament to her comedic chops, especially as she essentially carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, rather than McCarthy who has her share of focus but is more buddy than cop. It’s while investigating her case of a drug lord that she encounters Detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) who’s the tough street cop Ashburn is anything but. So, of course, opposites clash but because Mullins knows the streets so well, they’re forced to work together.
The paint-by-numbers story wouldn’t be so painful if the case itself weren’t also so dull. Much more time is devoted to the eventual bonding of Mullins and Ashburn than to building up the case itself which only undercuts the bonding because the stakes are never raised for them. Even scenes that are meant to serve furthering the case along tend to just fall back on the Ashburn/Mullins relationship rather than fleshing out the plot itself. And, if the ‘80s action film has become tiresome to some, it’s not nearly as tiresome as jokes about the Boston accent. While Mullins curiously doesn’t have one (nor does her brother played by the quintessential New Yorker Michael Rappaport) the rest of her family’s accent can’t get thick enough. There’s not a whole lot of Boston jokes but enough to wear out its welcome quickly.
Feig was obviously trying to go for the big laughs in Bridesmaids but those laughs were dampened by a truly good story anchored by a nuanced performance by Kristen Wiig. Instead, The Heat relies solely on the comedy to get through its nearly two hour length. At its best it feels like Midnight Run, where the comedy isn’t as much hysterical as it is amusing, which is fine. If only the story itself were stronger Feig might have had another classic on his hands.