A film review by Craig J. Koban July 11, 2013


2013, R,  117 mins.


Sandra Bullock as Ashburn  /  Melissa McCarthy as Mullins  /  Demián Bichir as Hale  /  Taran Killam as Adam  /  Michael Rapaport as Jason Mullins  /  Jane Curtin as Mrs. Mullins

Directed by Paul Feig /  Written by Katie Dippold

How many buddy/cop films have you seen in your lifetime?  

If the answer is around...I dunno...elevendy million…well…hyperbole aside…I’m totally with you.  However, how many buddy/cop films have you seen where the two mismatched officers of the law are women?  

No very many, I would suppose, which is what gives THE HEAT a lingering taste of freshness despite its otherwise cliché riddled and routine storyline.  Actually, I would go as far as to say that THE HEAT is not only one of the highly rare testosterone free buddy/cop films, but perhaps one of the even rarer female centric cop action films.  In this way, the film is a wonderfully unique double threat. 

Of course, films like this exist primarily to generate ample comedic mileage out of the two polar opposite cops, otherwise there would be no amusing conflict of interest between the pair to be had.  THE HEAT certainly has a well cast duo of misfit hero-wannabes that are delectably dissimilar, yet share the commonality of being played by two amusing actresses that work so well on-screen opposite of one another.  One is F.B.I Agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) that is almost scarily uptight about herself and her own image within the bureau.  She is not so much “by-the-book” in terms of the law and her job as she is sitting on the book and not giving it time to come up for air and breathe.  Alas, she is reasonably proficient at her job, and in the opening sections of the film she is given a very special case by her boss (Oscar nominee Demian Birchir) that involves her bringing down a ruthless and despotic drug lord in Boston.  

Ashburn dutifully agrees, but her main problem is that she has very little people skills.  She is so inept with making friends that her only confidant is a cat…and it’s not even her own (it belongs to a neighbor).  When she arrives in Boston she finds herself immediately butting heads with Detective Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who is everything, of course, that Ashburn isn’t.  Mullins is overweight, a slobby dresser, drinks too much, and drops insulting F-bombs to her criminal prey - and frequently to her colleagues – that would be enough to make the mobsters in GOODFELLAS blush with envy.  Hell, her own boss (played in a funny cameo by Tom Wilson) is even sheepishly afraid of her: At one point the early fortysomething boss reveals to Ashburn that Mullins has aged him so considerably over the years out of sheer stress that his own kids call him “grandpa.”  



Nonetheless, Mullins does not take kindly to Ashburn infringing on her turf and on her perps.  Predictably, the two are forced to team up and combine their own exclusive skills to hunt down suspects while trying not to rip each other apart.  Mullins is as hopeless of a loner as it gets, so having an uptight do-gooder in Ashburn really chafes her behind at first.  Alas, it’s always been a staple of the buddy/cop genre that the pair of mismatched officers will indeed, slowly but surely, come to understand that their inherent differences is what makes them an effective tandem, and as both Ashburn and Mullins truly begin to gel as a cohesive investigative unit, they begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together as to the real identity of the nefarious drug kingpin that culminates in a dangerous showdown that just could cost both of them their very lives. 

THE HEAT was directed by Paul Feig, who previously directed McCarthy in BRIDESMAIDS, another female dominated comedy that was universally cherished by most…just not entirely by me.  The screenplay here is from Katie Dippold (her first) and it’s clear that her inspirations were films like RUNNING SCARED, the LETHAL WEAPON films, and 48 HOURS, the only difference being that those films focused on male characters.  To be fair to her script, there is no conventional or hackneyed stone that is left unturned by THE HEAT’s plot; the film dutifully and mechanically goes from point a to b and finally to c with razor sharp predictability.  The film is a formulaic comedic vehicle through and through; nothing it does is particularly novel or revitalizing with the age-old genre. 

Yet…what is new, though, is that the film has women at the helm, which is kind of enough to forgive it for all of its preordained story contrivances (that, and there are so few other films similar to this that afford female comedians the chance to take center stage).  THE HEAT is essentially a well-oiled machine by which laughs – and frequent ones at that – are generated by the intuitively well-timed and staged dialogue sequences and interplay between Bullock and McCarthy.  The chemistry between the potty-mouthed and innately volatile Mullins and the mild mannered and rule-abiding Ashburn overcomes the film’s narrative laziness.  They are both also agreeably likeable, in their own very peculiar manner.  Ashburn is likeably submissive and hesitant whereas Mullins is so verbally toxic that you kind of just love how she makes mental mincemeat out of her male counterparts. 

What I appreciated most about THE HEAT was that it’s not a sugarcoated female comedy.  To be fair, Feig’s own BRIDESMAIDS was as foul, crude, and lewd as just about another other male dominated pre-wedding film, but I just felt that the film had little to offer beyond its crassness.  McCarthy’s comedic talents are allowed to simmer much more this go around as she has a far more rounded character to play, not to mention that she has a wild and reckless penchant for hurling out insults alongside physically tormenting those beneath her that she feels weighs her down.  The reason that McCarthy is the center of attention here is that, quite frankly, there’s no other spitfire force of nature that can really contend with her.  Her inhumanly foul improvisational rants leads to the most shocking laughs in the film.  Bullock, rather wisely, plays the straight woman to all of McCarthy’s freewheeling – but infectiously droll – repulsiveness. 

THE HEAT, regrettably, is abnormally long at nearly two hours, not to mention that its script takes far too many detours and can’t seem to stay in one place for too long of a time.  Plus, there are ample filler scenes that, on their own, are perversely hysterical, but do little to further the story (I’m thinking of, for example, a truly vile moment in a Dennis restaurant where Ashburn tries to save a choking victim by performing a tracheotomy, with predictably blood spattering results, not to mention a recurring subplot involving a fellow agent that is an Albino that frequently gets the emotional wind knocked out of him by the insensitive Mullins).  Even though THE HEAT overstays its welcome far, far too long and never strays away from stale conventions, it’s nonetheless a very funny buddy/cop comedy that gives its female actors their due in an otherwise masculine domineered genre.  That alone is a welcome relief.  Plus, McCarthy's hilariously unhinged acid-tongued beat downs throughout the film are not for the faint of heart, male or female.  

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