7/4/2013 - A know-it-all FBI agent and a rough-and-tumble Boston cop are forced to work together to bring down a drug dealer in The Heat, an exceptional buddy-cop movie starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.
And yes, “exceptional” in both ways: both an exception to the domination of the buddy-cop movie by dude-law enforcement (even when the TV police forces are jam packed with lady crime solvers) and worth of note for how unapologetically, ungirlishly funny it is.
Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), an FBI agent who is thoroughly convinced of her own greatness, is at the brink of getting a big promotion. Ashburn’s knowledge of her own superiority has not made her the most popular of agents and, her boss explains, part of moving up in the Bureau is learning how to work well with others.
Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) has her whole precinct of the Boston PD bullied. Whether she’s humiliating a man she catches soliciting a prostitute or humiliating her captain (Tom Wilson) for giving in to FBI demands, Mullins knows how to push people around but isn’t that great at collaboration, either.
So when the FBI searches for a big-time drug dealer in Boston, neither Ashburn nor Mullins wants to work together. But for Ashburn, the case could be her ticket to the big chair and for Mullins the drug dealer represents a potential source of trouble for her brother (Michael Rappaport) trying to go clean after a stint in prison. So the buttoned-up Ashburn and the foul-mouthed Mullins grit their teeth and give partnership a try.
As you expect in a movie with two lady cops, there is a scene where one of them has to distract a drug dealer with seduction so the other can bug his phone. In some terrible, non-Paul Feig version of this movie, the ladies get tarted up and the humor goes in the direct of boobs and handcuffs. Here, Mullins tries to tart up Ashburn’s very government-looking gray suit and button-down blouse. The results are a kind of insane-looking cut-off shorts, a shirt that looks like Ashburn had some sort of paper shredder accident and teased hair that looks like she got gum stuck in it. Here, and throughout the movie, comedy wins over glamour. There are here-and-there hints of the women’s romantic lives but the job is their central focus. And while they are competitive, they aren’t catty. It’s like somebody (or, you know, lots of us) said, “What we want is a movie that is the exact opposite of Bride Wars.” The Heat doesn’t use “girl cops” as a gimmick, instead it uses “cop movie” as the excuse to let McCarthy and Bullock be incredibly bad-ass.
Or, if that kind of feminist praise makes your eyes roll and your head flop back, let’s just skip to the part where I say, “The Heat is hilarious!” And it is. Since Bridesmaids, Paul Feig’s previous feature film directorial effort, will be the comparison, let me say that The Heat compares favorably. It is of the same cloth, it drinks from the same well (as Bridesmaids and Parks & Recreation, which Feig directs and this movie’s writer Katie Dippold writes for). The movie has no problems letting its characters be crude or pushy or mean while still being honest and hard-working and ambitious. And funny! It is genuinely, occasionally foully, hilarious, as well as goofily hilarious and just often enough, sort of sweet.
I’ve been a fan of McCarthy’s since way back (way back in this case being Sookie on Gilmore Girls). I like that, in better movies and TV shows at least (I’ve never seen Mike & Molly and I plan to keep it that way), she isn’t just a one-note “she’s loud and big” joke. She gets to find weird new places to go. And Bullock, after causing me to cringe at the mere sight of her name during the ’90s and early aughts, has won me over. Somewhere in the last five or so years, she’s found more and more opportunities to be in movies that aren’t so focused on her being America’s Sweetheart but in doing something different and interesting. Maybe creativity over cutesiness is a thing that can happen if you’re successful enough by the time you hit your late 40s. If so, more of that, please, Hollywood and less trying to convince us that all female characters are 29.
The Heat is funny, silly and crude — the perfect flavor of comedy for the hot days of summer. B+
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence. Directed by Paul Feig and written by Katie Dippold, The Heat is an hour and 57 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.