Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: "The Heat"

Is "The Heat" anything more than the familiar zany buddy cop genre we've seen dozens of times, but with the estrogen switch flipped?

Not really.

But Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are immensely likeable performers individually. And when you throw the hot-and-cold mixture of their two well-drawn characters together, the combustibility is hard to deny.

"Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig is reunited with supporting player McCarthy, who earned a rare Oscar nomination for a comedic role. She's moved into the big leagues now, and pairs nicely with fellow A-lister Bullock.

What I liked about their cinematic combination is the give and take they exchange so freely. There's nothing forced about their chemistry together. Usually with the male versions of this sort of thing, it's easy to point out the alpha dog. Here, the stars are generous in sharing the screen, and the laughs.

And there are plenty of laughs in "The Heat." In factor, several scenes are the most uproarious I've seen at any movie this year. An overnight bender in a Boston dive bar just keeps going on and on, reaching a new level of hilarity just when you think the roll must peter out.

Bullock is Sarah Ashburn, a by-the-book FBI agent who doesn't play well with others. It's not that she doesn't try -- she's easily the best agent in the New York City office. It's just that, as her boss (Demián Bichir) puts it, she displays an "aggressiveness and competitiveness" that is off-putting to her mostly male colleagues.

If Ashburn has a passive/aggressive issue, then Mullins is nothing but belligerence. A Boston police detective, she terrorizes criminals and other law enforcement officers with equal verve.  She dresses like a roadie and swears like a sailor with Tourette's.

In the real world Mullins, whose antics include pulling her gun on a nurse who asks her to turn off her cell phone in a hospital, would be drummed out of the force in a week. But here she's so angry and feral, even her captain submits meekly to her bullying.

Ashburn gets sent to Boston to track down a big lead on a drug kingpin, and her fashionable stilettos are soon stepping all over the toes of Mullins' shabby boots. Reluctantly they agree to team up, though the trail of clues plays second fiddle to the testy dynamic between them.

At first it's about Mullins trying to get the prim Ashburn to loosen up, which leads to a screamingly funny bit where they sabotage her all-business suit to come up with a hoochie outfit to lure a suspect at a nightclub.
Their dance moves are, well, epic.

Slowly the spotlight shifts over to Mullins' family, which is an unholy wreck. Her junkie brother (Michael Rapaport) is in jail -- courtesy of his cop sister -- and the rest of the clan blames her for his troubles. It's a screeching caricature of the Boston blue collar class, but still wicked awesome.

Screenwriter Katie Dippols, a TV scribe making her feature film debut, knows just how to tailor the yucks to her two leading ladies' personas. Structurally it's a bit unsound, with too many dead spots scattered throughout. You could easily make the movie 20 minutes shorter, and better.

But even if "The Heat" treads overly familiar ground, these ladies still bring the funny with both barrels blazing.

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