It’s as if someone had a Buddy Movie script left over from before we all knew about Mel Gibson’s and Danny Glover’s politics. This cop story, titled “The Heat” in that imaginative way that Hollywood has, was given to Paul Feig—who once won TV’s “$25,000 Pyramid”—to make into a film.
Having given himself the opportunity by directing the hit “Bridesmaids,” Feig must have felt comfortable letting the break-out talent of that film, hefty Melissa McCarthy, have one of the lead roles. The other was filled with Sandra Bullock, who has involved herself in some odd pictures the last five years—remember “The Proposal,” “All About Steve,” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”?
The producers threw in Jane Curtain, who may not have a line in the film but who does get to make an obscene gesture, and Michael Rapaport who is, for once, the sympathetic character. Then they quit paying attention to the product. “The Heat” isn’t as bad as preview-viewers may have feared, but it is also pretty uneven.
Bullock plays Ashburn, an FBI agent whose nasty habit of showing up her colleagues has made her unpopular in the Bureau. She wants to be promoted to a supervisory position, though. So her boss sends her to Boston to help the local police snag a big drug dealer.
McCarthy plays Mullins, the local police. Mullins is very successful in her own right. But she is a sort of caffeinated Dirty Harry who has intimidated her boss and her colleagues as much as she has the criminals in her area. Once she even arrested her own brother (Rapaport) as a part of the recreational-drug distribution network. This has made her fabulously unpopular with her loud-mouthed family.
Most of the comedy here is supposed to come from coarse dialog, usually as McCarthy threatens someone and develops the description of what she is going to do to them through perhaps a dozen clauses spiked with profanity. Ha ha ha. Like we’ve never heard unnecessary cursing before.
Some funny jokes sneak through, though. Mullins shows Ashburn her apartment. The refrigerator is actually an armory, filled with guns and other explosives. Don’t touch that grenade in the butter compartment, though. “That occasionally ticks.”
Mullins asks a unsympathetic DEA agent who is an albino, “You OK? Because you look really pale. Snow cone.” There is a tasteless pun in the use of the phrase “tongue in cheek” that manages to work. Somehow.
But usually it is the physical comedy that seems funny in this time-warp movie. McCarthy’s ungainliness turns out to be an asset for her as she clambers through car windows. Mullins gives Ashburn (who is dressed like a stock FBI agent) a make-over in a nightclub women’s room, mostly by cutting the arms and legs of her outfit off, and this leads to the discussion about “Spanx.” “They hold it all together.” “What was going to come popping out?”
The buddy parts of the movie, though, don’t work real well. The night-long drinking music-montage is never funny, for example. But it is about there that McCarthy alters her character and plays softer. This suggests a little depth that the film actually doesn’t have. Why does she become less acidic when she does?
Luckily for the movie, we’re not usually looking for good sense in comedy films. Unfortunately, we are usually looking for more than vulgar language. “The Heat” has some other attractions. But are they enough to save it?