Movie Review: The Heat
By Matthew Huntley
July 9, 2013
When it comes to buddy cop movies, elements like story and plot aren’t as important to us as they would be for other genres, probably because we know the success of a buddy cop movie is mostly dependent on the chemistry of the actors playing the buddy cops. If their chemistry is intact, we can pretty much bet on having a good time. Now if the actors also happen to inhabit a strong, original story, we might consider the movie transcendental, but this isn’t something we automatically expect.
The Heat is very much in the spirit of Red Heat and Rush Hour, or any variety of films like them, in which two cops from different cities and backgrounds, not to mention opposite methods for upholding the law, are forced to work together. They start out as enemies but gradually form a friendship, eventually realizing they were made for each other.
With this in mind, it’s clear The Heat doesn’t exactly transcend its genre, but it’s a good example of it, thanks to its punchy dialogue, amusing sight gags and quick exchanges between its two leads, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Neither actress does much as far as stretching her acting muscles or playing against type, but each fits snuggly into her respective role and proves to be a good match for the other.
Bullock is the professional, conservative, and by-the-book Sarah Ashburn, a New York City FBI agent. McCarthy is the raw, angry and potty-mouthed Shannon Mullins, a Boston P.D. detective. We’ve seen this opposite-pairing many times before, but director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) infuses the material with a confident, energetic rhythm that keeps it moving.
Ashburn, of course, is obnoxious and disliked by other members of her department, but nobody denies she’s good at what she does, which is why her boss (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston to investigate a notorious drug dealer who leaves his victims cut up into little pieces. She winds up clashing with the fiery and testy Mullins, who doesn’t take it so well when she learns her drug lord case has been handed over to the FBI. Eventually, both women realize if they’re going to make any headway, they have to work together.
With its standard plot and antagonistic characters in place, the movie more or less frees itself up to have fun with Bullock and McCarthy as comediennes, and even though it does this in ways that are not completely foreign to the genre, they pay off rather well. The uptight Ashburn attempts to push her textbook methods onto Mullins. She advises her, for instance, not to use the word “interrogation” because it makes people nervous and lets her know there’s a very clear-cut process to probing suspects for answers. Mullins, meanwhile, tries to show Ashburn how to loosen up at a club by ripping her clothes apart and making her look like a common skank. Both women must also deal with Mullins’ loud, eccentric family, each member of whom is a piece of work and speaks with a heavy Boston accent. They blame Mullins for arresting her brother (Michael Rappaport) for drug dealing and putting him in jail, which is just one of the subjects that allows both women to open up to each other.
You’re probably thinking most of what I described feels all too familiar and is pretty much business as usual as far as buddy cop movies are concerned, and it is, but thanks to the consistently funny dialogue from Katie Dippold’s screenplay and often hilarious physical comedy (there’s just something about McCarthy throwing a watermelon that makes us laugh), the movie works anyway. By the end of The Heat, we don’t care about the plot, but we like the characters and the movie has supplied us an ample amount of humor. Not only is the latter something we expect, it’s what we were hoping for.