The Heat,
directed by Paul Feig
(Twentieth Century Fox, 2013)

I always worry when female empowerment films follow predictable formulas, because there aren't enough female empowerment films to be using as disposable cannon fodder. The Heat's plot is truly as weak as day-old coffee and never really meshes with its leads' finely tuned comedic sensibilities. Melissa McCarthy carries most of the movie, leaving Sandra Bullock as a wrapped-too-tight-for-her-own-good FBI agent who plays the straight man to McCarthy's on-fire, alpha female infused brand of cray-cray local cop; however, both actresses are more than equal to the task of bringing the movie's levels up from "barely watchable" to "hysterical."

And Bullock, an actress with some comedic chops, is an adept foil for the formidable McCarthy. Their chemistry carries the movie over its weak spots like an out-of-control top, and the ride is a pleasantly distracting one. This is producer and director Paul Feig's best work since Bridesmaids.

Sara Ashburn (Bullock), a top agent with serious personality problems (she doesn't have one), is up for a promotion that means the world to her. Her main problem is that no one can stand to work with her. If she can wipe out a major drug dealer when his biggest shipment comes in, the job is hers. The uptight, by-the-book agent meets up with her local contact, Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) a woman as tough as any male that's ever been in any cop movie, and whose mouth never stops running a line directly from her brain to her tongue, saying exactly what she thinks, lending new meaning to the terms "abrasive" and "confrontational."

The plot and its incredibly obvious ending are not the point. It's the friendship that gradually develops between the two women that creates all the real dramatic tension. Granted, they are talking about boyfriends and Spanx and barrettes while shooting people, abusing suspects and kicking down any door that even looks suspicious, but it's still an intense interaction that makes their lines look more natural and ad-libbed than written. This goes a way toward compensating for dialogue that was swiped almost directly from 48 Hours and the overall rushed feel of the plot. McCarthy's incredible fierceness and motor-mouthed cussing covers the more glaring plot holes. The scenes in which she shows the brilliant but lacking in street smarts Bullock how to handle herself in a tough environment are true comedy gold.

It's easy to call out Bullock's role as a repeat of Miss Congeniality, but she keeps up her end of the "opposite temperaments" routine fairly well. When she does let loose she matches her swearing, shooting counterpart point for point. The bar room scenes are particularly hysterical.

There's also a strong supporting cast in the form of McCarthy's family members, a foul-mouthed but loving clan, and the gang of drug dealers, all of them composed of a number of comedy veterans. Mediocre plot aside, The Heat is emotionally intelligent and really quite subversive. Its tired plot didn't bother me a bit because frankly, I was laughing too hard. Here's hoping this is the start of a great comedy team.

review by
Mary Harvey

20 July 2013

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