Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Heat (2013)

It was the Bridesmaids combo of Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig that really put the former on Hollywood's radar. She is slowly making a name for herself as a reliably funny performer despite not always receiving the type of material she deserves (see IdentityThief). Here the two reunite for the film that was, for a long time, known as 'The Untitled Female Buddy Cop Comedy'. In Snakes on a Plane style part of me wishes they had kept this at the title but alas, The Heat is what we were left with. As with his last film, Feig was on a mission to make a female-centric comedy that both men and women would enjoy. To prove that women are just as funny and downright silly as men. It worked with his first film, which was incredibly popular with both critics and audiences alike. Can he and McCarthy work their female-centric magic in the world of cops and robbers? 

The Heat doesn’t exactly break any boundaries in terms of plot and the script, written by Katie Dippold of Parks and Recreation, sets out a pretty simple premise in order to introduce the pair. At its bare bones it’s the standard buddy cop narrative but with more jokes about vaginas and spinsterhood. Sandra Bullock plays the career-driven FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn, whose desire to succeed is alienating her from her colleagues. Much like the career-driven and socially awkward FBI agent that Bullock played in the Miss Congeniality films in fact. With the promise of a prestigious promotion, Ashburn finds herself investigating a drugs baron working out of Boston. It doesn't take long before she is stepping on the toes of local detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) and her never-ending mission to clean up her streets. Unsurprisingly, the pair soon discovers that their only chance of cracking the case is to combine their individual skills.

It’s really not difficult to see how this will pan out from here. The by-the-book Ashburn and the anything goes Mullins clash throughout the investigation. Whether that’s about how they dress, how they deal with suspects or their romantic lives. It is their differences that keep the plot plodding along until the inevitable turning point in their relationship occurs. This happens, unsurprisingly, during a night of heavy drinking when they ladies discover that under the surface the two are just passionate about their jobs. It is a scene which only goes to highlight the wonderful chemistry between the pair which gives their banter a pleasingly natural and improvised feel to it.

I think it’s safe to say that in the hands of different actresses this film would have flopped instantly. Both Bullock and McCarthy are capable of being incredibly funny and have no concerns about looking too silly. They throw themselves into every aspect of their parts and are incredibly successful. It would be easy to dismiss this as an ‘it’s all been done’ situation but, thanks to Feig and his two leads, you end up caring about the main characters. This is even more of a testament to the actresses when you consider that, at their core, the pair of law enforcers are essentially just dicks. It’s easy to see why they are so alienated from their co-workers. Ashburn brags about her superior skills and delights in humiliating her colleagues at any opportunity. Likewise, Mullins is loud, brash and turns to threats and profanity if she ever feels cornered. In lesser hands it would be easy to end up turning against these characters but, thanks to the incredibly likeable leads and Feig’s direction, the audience are with them every step of the way.

Feig may believe in his characters but he has some problems with keeping the film going. Just as he did in Bridesmaids, the director has a slight problem with pacing; some scenes keep going for much longer than they need to, some jokes are stretched out to beyond their limit, and there are moments which just distract from the main action. For example, the stand-out bar scene where Mullins and Ashburn drink themselves into a mutual understanding may be one of the funnier scenes but it is hard to escape the idea that it sort of outstays its welcome. At the same time, Dippold’s script often attempts to turn its simply narrative into something grander and attempts to pull off the kind of twist ending expected by a much better film. As it happens, the final reveal of the identity of the drugs lord is just unnecessarily confusing and feels sillier than any of McCarthy’s physical comedy... which, now I think about it, is probably a fitting revelation.

After all, at its heart, The Heat is an incredibly funny film. In fact, if it ain’t funny it’s more than likely that The Heat just isn't interested. Every scene, even the weakest ones, contains something that will get you chuckling. Despite an arguably weak narrative, Dippold’s script if full of fantastic jokes and amazing physical comedy perfectly tailored to the women at its centre. It is impossible not to get caught up in the sheer energy and heart that everyone is bringing to the production. 

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