The Heat is a mostly unpleasant film to watch, and an even worse film to review. Deserving neither a love letter nor an autopsy, Paul Feig’s fifth directorial feature is as aggressively average a movie as I’ve seen in recent memory.
In the vein of ’80s action classics like 48 Hrs. and Lethal Weapon, The Heat is a modern rendition on the buddy cop film. And like all the similarly framed films that have come before it, Feig’s laughless excursion plunges two cops – previously unknown to each other – into danger.
First there’s Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), a robotic, organized, and uptight Yale Grad turned FBI agent who is effective at her job but is loathed by all of her colleagues. Then we have officer Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who is the complete antithesis of Ashburn: messy, profane, and provocative. The only common thread holding these two women together, aside from the parlous case involving the takedown of a Boston drug lord, is loneliness.
Ashburn occasionally borrows her neighbor’s cat for affection, and Mullins has become the outcast of her family ever since she put her drug-ridden brother, Jason (Michael Rapaport) in prison a few years back.
They’re two cops who have – throughout their very successful careers- worked independently, without the assistance of a partner. Now, for the sake of cleansing the filthy streets of Boston, they’re forced to come together and work as a team. The Heat allows us to be there for that collaboration – a collaboration where two people cut from two very different cloths, must find someway to get along.
Similar to her roles in Bridesmaids and Identity Thief, McCarthy injects the film with the typical dopey vulgarity that she has built her name on. Thankfully for McCarthy screenwriter Katie Dippold sets up roughly around 75 jokes for the officer Mullins character – of which roughly 10 of those induce laughter.
On the other end of the spectrum we have FBI agent Ashburn, who makes us cringe more than laugh. Bullock is casted as the uptight leading lady with a penchant for snobbishly looking down on others. Sound familiar? That’s because she’s essentially playing the same character from her last box-off success, The Proposal. The only difference here is that instead of having Ryan Reynolds as her personal assistant, she has a badge and a gun.
The only groundbreaking element in The Heat is an extrinsic one – the casting of two females in a genuine buddy-cop flick. Why it has taken as long as it has for such a concept to come to fruition is bit disheartening. But not nearly as disheartening as The Heat itself – a piece of crass filmmaking that just about entirely squanders its potential.
As film critic and avid reader of Movie Mezzanine Scott Mendelson pointed out in his review at Forbes, The Heat passes the Bechdel test (a test that observes whether a piece of fiction features two women talking to each other about something other than a man), but fails the laugh test. Nearly every bit of comedy presented in the film is at the expense of someone else.
Simply put, Feig and Dippold forget dexterity at the door, ceaselessly creating unfunny comedy exacerbated by an incoherent crime drama plot taken so unforgivingly serious that you’d think you were watching a watered-down Martin Scorsese gangster film.