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The Heat

By Philip Martin

This article was published June 28, 2013 at 2:36 a.m.


Sisters are doing it for themselves. The unlikely team of police detective Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) and FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) employ some unusual investigative techniques in The Heat.

The success of Bridesmaids, the 2011 estrogen-driven “hard R” comedy directed by Paul Feig, seemed to promise a wave of potentially interesting movies in which women were finally allowed to be funny in the same raunchy ways men have always been allowed to be funny. Bridesmaids felt like more important than it actually was, for it seemed like, if not quite a breakthrough, at least a vindication of the sort of comedy that has been promulgated by the likes of Wanda Sykes, Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, Sandra Bernhard and - if you really want to go back - Moms Mabley and Rusty Warren.

The prime beneficiary of Bridesmaids, excepting its star and co-writer Kristen Wiig, is the multi-talented Melissa McCarthy,who not only earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in the film but was cast as the co-lead opposite Jason Bateman in this year’s Identity Thief (a role that was originally written for a male actor).

Now McCarthy stars opposite America’s Sweetheart Emeritus Sandra Bullock, an Oscar winner and game comedian in her own right, in The Heat, a Feig-directed spoof of police buddy actioners that would seem tailored to her particular comic talents. McCarthy, who is not a small person, has a wonderful gift for proceeding without betraying even a hint of self-consciousness, and when unleashed - as she was in Bridesmaids and Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 - has command of a colorful and eccentric (if unprintable) vocabulary. She does things with modifiers and verbs to cause sailors to blush crimson.

On top of that, McCarthy is a very capable dramatic actor whose finest contributions in Bridesmaids and in the current film may come in the quietest, least wacky moments. Like Bullock, she is a likable screen presence. One roots for her to continue to prosper as a kind of offbeat movie star, though the likelihood is that she’ll eventually settle into the sort of comfortable character actor career enjoyed by folks like Kathy Bates and Richard Jenkins. It’s perfectly understandable why she has taken on her current role; the pay’s better with one’s name above the title, and life is uncertain.

It doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, putting McCarthy together with Bullock as mutually antagonistic officers of the law investigating a murderous drug lord. Bullock is the supercilious, uptight but gifted FBI agent, while McCarthy is the slovenly, lustful and intuitive Boston plainclothes (actually grubby clothes) detective with a surfeit of street smarts and local knowledge. (For a moment, consider that the roles might have been reversed - I wonder if the filmmakers did.) If the leads exhibit a bit of chemistry and they begin to play off each other, The Heat might overcome its obvious pretext and the conservative patness of its script. Brilliant comedy doesn’t necessarily read funny, it has to be performed.

But it’s heartbreaking to watch McCarthy and Bullock work so hard to such little profit in The Heat. This is a movie that doesn’t once do the unexpected thing. It’s a movie that doesn’t have a single original idea, and that quickly abandons a pleasant opening credits feint toward ’70s cop movies (the Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power” kicks the film off on a solid note) in favor of a generic, soundstagy flavor.

A few funny bits, feel like the product of Bullock and McCarthy’s physical enterprise. They bump and tousle and relax into each other’s company and, against all logic, make the relationship between their crudely scrawled caricatures feel honest and even sweet. They deserve a better movie every bit as much as we do.

The Heat 79 Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, Demian Birchir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rappaport, Jane Curtin, Michael McDonald, Tony Hale, Tom Wilson Director: Paul Feig Rating: R, for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence Running time: 117 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 06/28/2013

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