The Heat is an average buddy-cop comedy that happens to feature women as the buddies. But, aside from the casting, there’s nothing innovative or original about the premise or its execution. It almost seems as if the script was written with the intention of casting men until someone got the idea to hire Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. There’s a surprising lack of social commentary in the implementation of women in a genre typically reserved for men. The filmmakers are happy just letting the girls get to do what the boys usually do, without giving them a voice of their own. While The Heat is sporadically funny and suitably entertaining, it’s also kind of pointless.
What’s really surprising is how low-brow the film is. Director Paul Feig created Freaks and Geeks, one of the smartest, funniest, and most insightful television programs ever made. He also directed the much superior Bridesmaids, which some have described as the ‘female Hangover’, but Bridesmaids wasn’t merely a party movie that featured women, it was about women. The Heat features women, but it isn’t about women. It isn’t really about anything. It’s a generic action-comedy about two mismatched cops, the straight-laced Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) and the loose-cannon Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who are forced to partner up much to each other’s chagrin. But guess what? After the initial personality clash, they begin to bond, and find they’re not so different after all.
It’s disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t try to play with the conventions of the genre more, settling for the fact that the ‘straight-man’ character is now a ‘straight-woman’ and the crazy guy is now the crazy gal. Beyond that, it just tells the story of two cops trying to nab a gang of drug dealers. What if it were a female gang of drug dealers they went after? Now that would be toying with genre conventions. What if their captain (Tom Wilson) was also played by a woman? What if they really went for it? The film doesn’t have the same self-awareness and self-mockery of its played out genre as last year’s 21 Jump Street so cleverly did.
Your enjoyment of this movie will be highly dependent on your appreciation of McCarthy’s shtick. If you think a little of her goes a long way, you’re in for a very long movie. McCarthy is funny, energetic and gives the performance her all, but she is probably better suited for supporting roles. Perhaps the reason she was such a highlight in Bridesmaids is because she never wore out her welcome. Her character in The Heat is very similar to the role she played in Bridesmaids, although even more aggressively offensive and crass. McCarthy drops more F-bombs than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. She does have a lot of funny one-liners, usually in the form of her barrage of insults to every other character in the movie.
It’s no secret that McCarthy is a big woman, but the film mostly ignores her physical appearance; yet if it were a man in this role, the film would contain a barrage of fat jokes pointed in his direction. Take Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover series for example, who is dubbed the name ‘fat boy’ by one of the other characters. No one would dare call McCarthy ‘fat girl’. But, if they’re going for this ‘girls can be just like the guys’ mentality, why not go for it? To a small extent they do; in one scene McCarthy tries to wriggle her way through a car window, but they mostly shy away from it. McCarthy’s character viciously insults Bullock’s character throughout the film. But, the other way around is not allowed.
There are issues with pacing and at a full two hours the movie overstays its welcome. There’s definitely a solid 90 minutes here that could have made for a much breezier comedy. As is, many scenes go on for too long while stretching out their one-note jokes. There are a handful of belly laughs, most of which come from McCarthy’s diatribes, but also an equal number of jokes that fall flat.
Now, I may be being a bit hard on the film due to its missed potential and not fulfilling the inspired idea of a buddy-cop action-comedy starring women. Taking it for what it is, the movie does have its good aspects. Credit is due for going for a hard R-rating, with non-stop crude language and surprising spurts of bloody violence (including an emergency tracheotomy in a Denny’s restaurant that’s one of the grosser gags in recent memory). Although a generic police procedural, the movie still entertaining and often fun.
While it’s refreshing to see women get a stab at the buddy-cop genre, there’s not a lot of material here to differentiate itself from the myriad of male buddy-cop movies. There are laughs to be sure, but their not big nor often. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are likable actresses and as far as mindless entertainment goes you could do worse, but overall, The Heat is only lukewarm.