After being the best thing about two terrible movies this year (“Identity Thief” and “The Hangover Part III”), Melissa McCarthy finally gets a vehicle that deserves her
The summer of 2013 should be remembered, among other things, as the moment when the Judd Apatow protégés left the nest and successfully flew out on their own.
A few weeks ago, the writers of "Superbad" scored an entertaining and even occasionally ambitious directorial debut with "This is the End," and now "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig scores once more outside the fold with "The Heat," a gloriously foul-mouthed buddy-cop comedy.
Reteaming with his game-for-anything "Bridesmaids" star Melissa McCarthy and adding the particularly prickly screen persona of Sandra Bullock to the mix, Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold (a TV vet making her big-screen debut) take this venerable genre — starting with 1970s-flavored opening credits that feature the Isley Brothers’ "Fight the Power" — and use it as a way to play to both actresses’ strengths.
Those so inclined map out how the script beats resemble those of "48 Hrs.," "Freebie and the Bean" and any number of other predecessors, but I was too busy laughing; unlike so many comedies that are funny enough, with a decent joke every few minutes to keep you seated, "The Heat" features lots of big laughs in almost every scene of its nearly two-hour running time.
FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is exceedingly competent at her job. She’s intelligent, intuitive, a polyglot who’s up on the latest criminological and psychological advancements … and utterly incapable of relating to other people. Friendless, loveless and resented around the office, she wants desperately to get a promotion; her boss (Demián Bichir, "A Better Life") needs Sarah to prove she can play well with others, so he sends her off to Boston to track down a nefarious drug kingpin.
It’s in Beantown where Sarah crosses paths with local cop Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), and it’s hate at first sight. Mullins works the streets of her own neighborhood in a uniquely abrasive way that has even her superiors cowering in fear from her, and sloppy Shannon is pretty much the polar-opposite of by-the-book Sarah, the latter with her sad little side hairpin and her drab pantsuits that might as well say "NARC." (Or as Shannon’s brothers, the battlin’-est Boston family this side of "The Fighter," might say, "NAHK.")
But wouldn’t you know it, these diametrically opposed lawpersons must come together for a shared cause, and find common ground, and bond a little, and so on and so forth. Neither woman has any friends or love life to speak of, although the string of crestfallen men whom Shannon awkwardly encounters throughout suggests that she gives one hell of a one-night stand. Still, both Sarah and Shannon know a lot more about firearms (Shannon keeps hers in an emptied-out fridge) than they do about their own hearts, or anyone else’s.
Dippold takes this oh-so-familiar framework and uses it as the foundation for a torrent of insults, quirky character observations, workplace sexism and one-liners that absolutely cannot be repeated on a safe-for-work website.
McCarthy, as ever, shines here; after being the best thing about two terrible movies this year ("Identity Thief" and "The Hangover Part III"), she finally gets a vehicle that deserves her. She knows how to use her sizable figure to get laughs without ever making herself the object of ridicule, and she matches her physical prowess with a genius for verbal comedy.
Looking back at Sandra Bullock’s career, it appears that she’s at her best when she’s got a co-star who keeps her on her toes and demands that she perform at a certain level; in any event, McCarthy brings out the Oscar-winner’s best. Her ability to make Sarah never swear — until, awkwardly, all those backed-up four-letter words come pouring out — is a treat to behold.
As Feig often does in his films, going all the way back to his underappreciated "Unaccompanied Minors," he casts comedians in many of the roles, often in places you wouldn’t expect. Probably no other filmmaker would cast Michael McDonald of "Mad TV" as a vicious drug lord with a knife fetish, but Feig does, and McDonald is suitably creepy in the role.
Also turning up are Tony Hale ("Arrested Development"), Taran Killam and Jane Curtin of "SNL," Zach Woods ("The Office"), "Bridesmaids" vets Mitch Silpa and Ben Falcone and, perhaps most surprisingly, former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre as one of Shannon’s Southie sibs.
"The Heat" isn’t much to look at, with its muddy cinematography and harsh lighting, but what it lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in comedy. There probably won’t be a funnier movie this year that features female bonding, drunken dancing, grenade launchers and a seriously botched emergency tracheotomy.
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