REVIEW: The Heat [2013]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 117 minutes | Release Date: June 28th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Paul Feig
Writer(s): Katie Dippold

“She’s looking for my balls”

The simple fact producers worried a film like The Heat wouldn’t find an audience because females don’t like action and males don’t like women leads is more a commentary on society’s absurd lack of faith in itself than it is on the industry. It’s 2013 and we haven’t yet looked past gender tropes to accept that universal thing called comedy underneath? Whether or not the movie is good shouldn’t take a backseat to the fear of alienating a group of people money managers treat as statistics instead of creatures with a capacity for intelligent opinions. The fact first time feature screenwriter Katie Dippold‘s words are hilarious coming out of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy‘s mouths only makes me sadder it almost never was. With all the human rights travesties in Congress at present, though, I shouldn’t be surprised.

Thankfully those two A-listers and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig attached themselves to add clout and security because big names help make the wheels turn. Sometimes a few well-placed pieces on the board are needed for your benefactor to play the game. Yes, Bullock has made her name playing frigid, by-the-books career-oriented women in Miss Congeniality, The Proposal, and more. Yes, McCarthy could ad-lib her way through any R-rated script allowing her to be all judgmental sass without a shred of personal insecurity. There’s a reason they keep landing these roles—they excel in them and audiences eat it up every time. If you can make a hit out of two idiot manchilds maturing into police officers—21 Jump Street—you can entertain by transforming two female lone wolf cops into an effective partnership.

Bullock’s Ashburn is a know-it-all FBI agent who rubs her coworkers the wrong way. Yes they are mostly men unable to come to grips with their own inferiority complexes at being shown up by a girl, but Dippold doesn’t simply stick to easy clichés since she also makes the character a completely arrogant brat who comes off worse because she doesn’t realize it. The gender stuff is there for sure, but it’s the infallible human quality of relishing power and success above all that really forms her psychology. And as far as McCarthy’s Mullins goes, she is a hardnosed bully who frankly scares the crap out of anyone in her way. It’s not a woman playing a man, though—no, it’s all bona fide chip-on-the-shoulder confidence. Neither is ever wrong; neither is afraid to say it.

So this is the dynamic on display—bad cop/bad cop. The “good” in this situation is Bullock using her training and rule book in an uppity, holier than thou way while McCarthy’s fly by the seat of your pants and take no prisoners attitude not only makes her seem mentally imbalanced but probably proves it too. They are the perfect team and as a result of their stubbornness the only people in the world to truly earn the other’s respect. Both have fought tooth and nail to overcome tough childhoods and both have refused handouts and charity along the way. They know they’re good, know their ways are better than the other’s, and don’t care what anyone else says. But just as that attitude got them where they are, it now threatens to derail everything they’ve built.

The only way to get back on track is to take out the mysterious drug kingpin Simon Larkin by working the streets, collecting evidence and intel, and climbing the criminal ladder to his perch. Sure they may be a bit overzealous—ask Rojas (Spoken Reasons) after the fall he takes in the trailers. Yeah they step on toes of other agencies and mock them—poor albino Craig (Dan Bakkedahl). But with every mistake made that puts us in stitches with giant belly laughs comes a little morsel of truth to put them on the road towards Larkin and his lieutenant Julian (Michael McDonald). They just have to hope Ashburn’s boss Hale (Demián Bichir) and Mullins’ Captain (Thomas F. Wilson) don’t suspend them first. Well probably just Ashburn since Mullins has her superior’s manhood in a vice.

Above the case and the cop work, however, lies the tearing down of walls to open up to one another and become more than the labels they’ve earned through selfish actions. McCarthy has her insane Bostonian family to contend with including a mother who hates her (Jane Curtain) and brother who loves her despite being sent to jail by her hand (Michael Rapaport). She is a queen of one-night stands—we meet a couple she strung along—and a professional at keeping everyone a mile away at all times. Bullock’s character detaches too, but her excuse is never having had someone close enough to bother knowing. Quick to dismiss advances from a coworker (Marlon Wayans) and quicker to publicly chastise everyone incapable of being as good as she, her solitude is more choice than unfortunate outcome.

Their back stories are familiar yet effective as they get caught in testicle Russian Roulette, some bumping and grinding on the dance floor to bug a phone, and situations where only the adrenaline rush of superhuman strength can save them. We accept their shortcomings and their evolution because we’re too busy laughing to look closer at the easy details and situations written for them to endure. Bullock and McCarthy share an expert chemistry with the former’s straightman and latter’s deadpan, sarcastic goofball and the supporting players give enough comedic edge to their faux severity to keep it interesting. There’s a car chase, a couple Mexican standoffs, and some police brutality to amp up the action, but The Heat is all about the jokes—something for which the script and cast shine the brightest.

[1] Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) and FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) are law enforcement officers who adopt really strange tactics to nab their quarry. Photo: Gemma La Mana – TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
[2] Capt. Woods (Tom Wilson) tries to separate warring law enforcement partners Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, left) and Ashburn (Sandra Bullock). Photo: Gemma La Mana – TM & © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, left) and FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) bust some moves during a night out on the town. Photo: Gemma La Mana – TM & © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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