Release Date: June 28, 2013
Director: Paul Feig
Writer: Katie Dippold
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir
MPAA Rating: R
Hollywood is a place that likes to pigeon hole its talent. Once it figures out how to sell an actor or a director, it likes to keep that person locked into that one tiny box instead of letting them branch out to try something new, for fear that any deviation will keep his or her next project from being a financial success.
So after director Paul Feig turned heads with Bridesmaids, a smash hit that made $169 million domestically, it would be easy to look at The Heat as Feig embracing his newly assigned role as “the director who does female comedies.” But the wonderful thing about The Heat is that it never feels like a “female buddy cop movie,” which is to say that it never feels gimmicky or forced. Instead, it is a buddy cop movie that happens to feature two female leads.
The film centers around FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), who is up for a promotion at work thanks to her unparalleled success closing cases. She’s a crime fighting prodigy. However, her boss, Hale (Demián Bichir), is hesitant to name her his successor because her arrogance and uptight demeanor has alienated her from the rest of the office. Her coworkers respect her, but they don’t like her and Hale isn’t sure that they’ll follow her into battle.
He gives Ashburn one last chance to prove herself by sending her to Boston to track down an elusive drug kingpin. When she gets to Boston, she must reluctantly join forces with local cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who is the Oscar to her Felix. While Ashburn is a squeaky clean, by-the-book agent who relies on her training and criminal psychology to close cases, Mullins is much more slovenly and free spirited and she relies on her instincts, knowledge of the city and brute force to close cases. Asburn does all she can to get Mullins off the case, but Hale wants her to cooperate with the local officer in order to prove she can play well with others.
The film gets a lot of mileage out of the duo’s differences. In the early part of the film, as they are still feeling each other out, they both get plenty of pot shots at each other’s way of dressing and acting. But while there are plenty of times when we are laughing at these characters, the film never forgets to treat them as people. They are flawed, certainly, and they do things that are worthy of ridicule, but Feig and writer Katie Dippold make sure you are invested in these characters and that you genuinely care about them, instead of simply presenting them as hollow punching bags for one another. As the film unfolds, you realize why Ashburn is the way she is and why she has so much trouble connecting with people. And you realize why Mullins has to put up such a tough outer shell, since she is battling both scorn from her family and her own guilt for getting her brother Jason (Michael Rapaport) locked up, which she believed was the only way to get him off of drugs and out of a life of crime.
The film has some enjoyable shootout and interrogation scenes and at times it is surprisingly graphic, but judged solely as an action film, The Heat feels a bit lacking. The plot covers well-trodden territory in the buddy cop genre and it’s fairly predictable as it unfolds. When Feig wants to dial up the action to show how capable his two leads are with a gun or wants to give them a hairy situation they must find a way out of, it works quite well, but these sequences are unfortunately too sparse for the film to stand alone as a true action film. Instead, it unfolds as more of a comedy with occasional action scenes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to go into the film with the right frame of mind.
It delivers much more consistently on the comedic side. I didn’t find myself laughing out loud as often as I did during Bridesmaids or during the summer’s other big comedy This Is The End, but it delivers consistent laughs throughout the film. One of the funniest – and most cringe-worthy – scenes is late in the film when Ashburn’s attempt to save a man who is choking in a diner go horribly awry. There is also a really funny twist on the classic “dangling an interrogation subject over the railing to get him to talk” gimmick.
Ultimately, The Heat‘s greatest strength is in its ability to connect with its audience. The action sequences may not feel as big as your average summer blockbuster buddy cop film and the comedy may not provide you with huge belly laughs, but in the end Feig gives you two characters that you genuinely care about and a story about friendship that feels genuine and moving. And sometimes, that’s enough.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at email@example.com.