HEAT, THE (6/28/13; Action Comedy)
Paul Feig’s instincts about what makes something funny are not in question. This is the man who has directed episodes of The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development, and Nurse Jackie. There’s even an episode of Mad Men in there. And let’s not forget, he was the co-creator of the awesome Freaks and Geeks.
But it’s worth noting that his Freaks and Geeks creative partner was Judd Apatow, a man who found similar big-screen success, only to have his output tainted by bloated running times and jokes that run too long. Some of that bloat was apparent in Bridesmaids, but it never hurt the movie. Feig’s instincts were vindicated: Bridesmaids was popular and critically-acclaimed, a rarity for a comedy.
Bridesmaids also introduced us to Melissa McCarthy, an instant movie star who also scored an Oscar nod. It’s only natural that Feig and McCarthy would find another project. Clearly, they trust each other.
So it’s a little surprising that their latest film The Heat spirals out of control so quickly.
We’re barely introduced to uptight FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) and ramshackle Boston cop Detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) before the movie devolves into scene-after-extended scene of a rabid McCarthy busting a nervous john (Arrested Development’s Tony Hale), giving chase to a low-level drug dealer and attempting to climb through the car window when she parks too close to a police car. I wasn’t running a stopwatch, but would be surprised if all that filler took less than 20 minutes of screen time.
By the time the plot actually kicks in, and Bullock and McCarthy are forced to work together to take down a mysterious mobster, McCarthy’s agita had actually turned me against her. I wanted her nebbishy police chief (the great Tom Wilson) to fire her ass so we could just get on with the movie. Like movie scenes in which the bomb ticks down to one second before being defused, The Heat recovers, and not a moment too soon.
This is obviously a throwback to the classic mismatched buddy cop comedies of the eighties and nineties, with the twist that it’s two women this time. Bullock and McCarthy do have wonderful chemistry, and as usual, McCarthy has a few tricks up her sleeve when the material requires her to get serious.
Fieg also assembled a crackerjack comedy cast that leans into the material by refusing to wink at the camera. Marlon Waynas is Bullock’s fellow agent with an adorable crush on her, but “no game.” Michael Rappaport is all dumb-boy Boston swagger as McCarthy’s trouble-prone brother. Demian Bichir is Bullock’s boss, a sensible guy who correctly assumes the worst about her people skills but sends her in anyway. And Dan Bakkedahl as a hotheaded undercover DEA agent, who’s also an albino. It’s saying something that he almost steals the movie from everyone.
The Heat is definitely funny, but it also suffers from an identity crisis. It wants to be a hard-boiled crime flick with F-bombs and violence, but also wants to stop for the occasional comedy set piece, such as a completely nonsensical bit when the gals bond while getting hammered at a local dive bar. It’s nothing you’ve never seen before, but funny is funny.
And that’s where Feig finds his power: in the funny. I can fold my arms and tell you what my years of fine-tuned critical analysis have taught me about brevity, or I can just accept that audiences were falling out of their seats watching McCarthy battle her way through a car window for five minutes.
Bring on the sequel.
— DENNIS WILLIS