The Heat is a buddy/cop movie in which the “buddy” part is really good, but the “cop” part is pretty lame. It’s nowhere near the classics of the genre like 48 HRS or Lethal Weapon; the script from writer Kate Dippold is the same old story of drugs and drug runners and moles and yada yada and doesn’t add anything new or interesting.
But the chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy is wonderful to behold. And director Paul Feig made the smart decision to let Bullock and McCarthy freelance, so it’s hard to tell where their contribution to the comedic banter ends and Dippold’s begins. So credit must be given to the four of them for creating that part of the movie that works so well, which is the relationship between these two competent outcasts who just don’t get along well with others.
McCarthy is becoming something of a one trick pony, and any appreciation you have from the movie depends upon how much you appreciate that one trick: her rampant vulgarity with a twist of sweetness. I still find myself very amused by the one trick; she is a poet of the profane. Very few in the movies can swear with the exuberance that she does. You totally buy her as a borderline degenerate slob with a badge.
I haven’t liked Bullock this much in a movie in a LONG time. When she became famous with Speed and While You Were Sleeping, you couldn’t help but fall for her. She truly didn’t seem to know how gorgeous she was, and she had an off-the-cuff goofiness about her that didn’t seem comfortable with glamour. She seemed like the most approachable of movie stars.
But as she became more famous (and won an Oscar for The Blind Side), she became guarded. Perhaps the more unfortunate parts of celebrity got the best of her, and unfortunately it showed in her performances.
Which is why it’s such a pleasure to see that goofiness return in a role where her character, FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, is so uptight and proper. She can’t relate to anybody. She’s the LAST person anybody would want to hang out with. She’s Margaret Dumont (if you’re not a Marx Brothers fan, Google it!) But Dippold (again, giving credit where credit is due) gives her little bits of business on the side to make you feel for her; a running gag about her neighbor’s cat is priceless.
And we eventually get bits of back story about McCarthy’s Detective Shannon Mullins as well in an attempt to fill us in on the warts of their personalities. But it isn’t necessary; Bullock and McCarthy are so in tune with each other and so funny together that we don’t need all the sad stories in order to feel for them, we’d follow them wherever they go.
Which is a good thing, because the cop story is so mediocre. And surprisingly violent. I guess this is just satisfying the needs of the genre, but it disrupts the tone set by Bullock and McCarthy and actually pulls you out of the movie. This also happened five years ago with Pineapple Express, which set up this fun and laid-back vibe between Seth Rogen and James Franco’s amiable stoners, then devolved into a really violent third act from which the movie never totally recovered.
The Heat doesn’t collapse from its violence in the way Pineapple Express did. And don’t get me wrong, as a horror fan, I’m DEFINITELY not against violence in movies. In fact, one of the better (and more bizarre) scenes in the movie also happens to be one of the bloodiest. It takes place in a Denny’s, and I won’t give away what happens, but it’s a darkly comic example of trying to do the right thing and doing it horribly wrong. And this thing is, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the main plot of the movie. It’s just a moment to let Bullock and McCarthy interact with each other, and Feig was smart enough to know this is what really drives the movie and let the two have their moment.
I’m sure there’s going to be a sequel. And when it arrives, I’ll be looking forward to seeing more from Agent Ashburn and Detective Mullins. But either give them a story worthy of their talents, or just let them hang out in a Denny’s for a couple of hours and let them do whatever the hell they want.