June 29, 2013 by abbyo
“The Heat” is a fairly unexceptional movie, for the most part. Its jokes are broad. Its story is pretty easy to figure out, and even the twist at the end seems obvious. It is note for note exactly like any other buddy cop movie you’ve ever seen. And therein lays its genius.
Because while “The Heat” is 90% run-of-the-mill, there’s one thing that makes it stand out: both its leads are female. Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock do everything you’d expect Seth Rogen or James Franco to do, but instead of guys being lude and gross and clumsy, while occasionally kicking ass, in “The Heat,” it’s women who are allowed to be hot messes, and that’s kind of great to see.
In the movie, Sandra Bullock plays Sarah Ashburn, an uptight FBI agent who doesn’t play well with her fellow bureau colleagues. She’s the straight woman to Melissa McCarthy’s Boston cop Shannon Mullins, who’s introduced collaring a man trying to hire a prostitute, then calling the man’s wife to let her know what her husband is up to. When Ashburn is tasked with finding and bringing down a Boston drug lord, she’s partnered with the bullying, socially graceless Mullins, and two officers who’d much rather work alone are forced to work together.
Director Paul Feig (of “Bridesmaids”) and writer Katie Dippold don’t do much at all with the buddy cop formula. It ticks off all the boxes: early one-upmanship leading to sloppy police work, followed by a tenuous alliance, a night of drunken antics and bonding, a reveal that tests that bond and gets the heroes thrown off the case, and finally everything coming together in the final showdown.
But unlike other lady-cop movies, such as Bullock’s own “Miss Congeniality,” “The Heat” never requires its leads to change themselves other than what’s required to make them dynamic characters. McCarthy and Bullock never get stunning makeovers. Neither of them ends up finding a man and settling down. If any rescuing happens, these two end up saving each other, rather than a man coming to their aid. And any instance where any of those things might happen ends up being played for laughs.
On that front, McCarthy and Bullock make a good comedic team. McCarthy brings the brand of over-the-top physical humor that stole the show in “Bridesmaids,” and Bullock does a good job of keeping her tethered, as much as she can, by being comparatively normal while still displaying her own weird quirks. The film also boasts a very funny ensemble cast, filled out with entertaining cameos from comedians and comic actors like Jane Curtin, Bill Burr, Chris Gethard and Kaitlin Olson of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
“The Heat” is by no means landmark cinema, and as a follow-up for Feig to “Bridesmaids,” it’s a little underwhelming. But it’s still an enjoyable movie, and it makes a valiant effort to show a different way of portraying tough, funny women on film. For that I think it deserves a little credit.