We have two cops. One’s a prim-and-proper, by-the-book FBI agent; no one likes her because she’s difficult to work with and arrogant. The other is an unstable lunatic who, despite also being good at her job, terrifies the rest of her local police precinct. Through a series of whacky mishaps, the professional federal agent and the wild card police detective end up working together to take down an anonymous drug kingpin. Shenanigans ensue. Director Paul Feig’s follow-up to the commercially successful and critically acclaimed Bridesmaids plays like the American answer to Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Is it clichéd? Yes. Is it funny? Absolutely.
Sandra Bullock stars as uptight Special Agent Ashburn. Early on we witness her lead a raid on a drug den. Federal agents swarm the house but are unable to uncover anything. Ashburn waltzes right in past her male counterparts and proceeds to uncover a cache of hidden weapons while taking the time to casually insult her colleagues. It becomes immediately clear why no one likes her. She wishes to be promoted, but she’s regarded by her superior as being too unlikable to serve in any supervisorial capacity.
Melissa McCarthy co-stars as the disheveled, nearly psychotic wild card. We first encounter her as she busts a low-level drug dealer. After attempting to run the punk over with her car, she catches up to him on foot and knocks the man to the ground by hurling a water melon at him. She operates with impunity, and regularly accuses her captain of having no balls. Everyone in her department is justifiably terrified of her.
Will these two cross paths? Will they have differences? Will they set aside those differences to take a larger threat and gain the acceptance of their male peers?
I won’t go into the plot, because there isn’t much here. This movie’s only pleasures come from watching Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy bounce off of each other. It should come as no surprise that McCarthy does a great job here. She’s wonderful at playing oddballs and misfits, and she has a tendency to shine even in crappy movies. She’s a brilliant comedienne equally adept at conveying emotion or engaging in slapstick.
The surprise here comes from Sandra Bullock’s performance. I’ve never disliked Bullock, but she never struck me as someone capable of handling the type of raunchy humor for which Feig and McCarthy are celebrated. She’s been consistently heralded as a Hollywood good girl, and her typical fare tends to consist of relatively safe flicks like Miss Congeniality. Prior to The Heat, it would be almost unthinkable to see her teaming up with members of Judd Apatow’s comedy crew, and yet Bullock takes to her role naturally.
And that’s a good thing, because, as mentioned earlier, The Heat depends on the charisma generated by Bullock and McCarthy. The movie careens from disconnected scene to disconnected scene with brilliant gags and one-liners that feel mostly improvised. When you have a cast that includes the likes of Tony Hale, Bill Burr, Dan Bakkedahl, and Kaitlin Olson, I suppose a script isn’t necessary.
And yet Feig does manage to weave together a few coherent themes. McCarthy and Bullock both play highly driven women in a male-dominated profession. They’re single, they live alone, and they’re ostracized by their co-workers. All of the film’s antagonists are men. Everyone is largely dismissive of our protagonists’ efforts.
It’s hard not analogize the plight of the two heroes of The Heat to the plight of women in comedy, a male-dominated subset of the entertainment industry. Just like the heroes of this movie, women in comedy are often dismissed and marginalized. Speaking for myself, prior to the release of Bridesmaids, I don’t know that I’ve seen a single estrogen-driven comedy that has made me laugh. This movie made me laugh, though. Repeatedly.
Just like their fictional counterparts, Bullock and McCarthy set out to achieve success in a male-dominated arena, and, like their fictional counterparts, they succeed. That gives The Heat a little more emotional heft and ties the movie’s erratic comedy together. A little heart is needed to drive a comedy that features the two characters giving an emergency tracheotomy to a man choking on his Denny’s breakfast and Sandra Bullock shooting a criminal twice in the dick. All good things must be tempered a bit. And the filmmakers here accomplish that by producing an irreverent comedy that dispenses raunch and heart in equal measure.