The Heat is a buddy-action comedy primed to cash in on the box-office allure of Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.
But the film’s success represents more than their star power.
It starts with screenwriter Katie Dippold and her consistently funny and genre-smart script. It includes laugh-inducing performances by a supporting cast. And it has the guiding hand of director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), who blends these elements into an effective comedy.
In its most basic and summary form, Dippold’s screenplay is routine — two mismatched law-enforcement agents team up to take down a drug lord — yet the jolt of feminism to what traditionally has been male-oriented fare infuses fresh humor and ideas onscreen. What could have been a gender-bending comedy gimmick instead proves to be the film’s biggest asset, along with the ability of McCarthy and Bullock to sell us on the plot twist and jokes that go along with it.
Bullock is the uptight, by-the-book portion of the duo, a New York FBI agent named Ashburn. She has proven herself to be capable as an agent, but her know-it-all personality has annoyed and alienated almost everyone in her department. Ashburn is desperate to land a promotion, but her supervisor won’t offer her the job outright because of her inability to get along with others. Instead, he sends her to Boston to find and arrest a notorious drug lord as proof that she’s worthy of the promotion.
Ashburn’s task proves even more difficult when paired with a foul-mouthed, aggressive, and abrasive Boston police detective named Mullins, played by McCarthy. The two inevitably square off against the drug lord and his dangerous underlings, but first they battle each other over what to wear, how to interrogate witnesses, and generally how to do their jobs.
Short and overweight, McCarthy is the latest in a line of rotund comic actors nimble of feat and fearless with their bodies — a style personified by John Belushi. Similar to the late comic-actor, McCarthy gracefully escalates mid-tempo laughs into comedy chaos. For more than two decades, the late Chris Farley was the obvious comparison to Belushi, but McCarthy is a better actor and arguably just as gifted physically. Like her male predecessors, who both died before their careers flourished, McCarthy’s ultimate challenge will be in her ability to branch out into other character types — in this instance, anything other than potty-mouthed and abrasive. Until then, though, here’s hoping her projects are more The Heat than Identity Thief.
No slouch as a comic actress, Bullock is challenged with the more difficult task of playing straight (wo)man to McCarthy’s force of nature, without being overshadowed by her costar. Bullock picks her moments to shine and earns her share of the laughs.
Their successful pairing is bolstered by the film’s menagerie of offbeat minor characters, including McCarthy’s dysfunctional Boston family (Jane Curtin, Michael Rapaport, Bill Burr, among many others), a European drug dealer (Kaitlin Olson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), an emasculated Boston police captain (Thomas F. Wilson, Back to the Future trilogy), and an albino DEA agent (Dan Bakkedahl) who verbally spars with Mullins.
Even with its nearly two-hour run time, The Heat is consistently funny. In his follow-up to 2011’s Bridesmaids, Feig strives for a pace of steady giggles rather than occasional thunderous guffaw.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.