Skip to main content

What is this, Training Day?

The Heat
(2013)

I suppose it’s good and all to get a female buddy cop movie, one that turns out to be a big hit, as studios continue to slowly recognise there’s an eager demographic they haven’t been catering for. Except that it’s not so good when that movie is as tiresome as The Heat. Sure, it’s nothing new for the genre to coast on star appeal rather than anything approaching a robust and well-written script with gags that are other than improvised (or ticking all the gross out boxes that are so “Dawn of Apatow”, but really post-Farrellys). But is that really a worthy goal? Was anyone really satisfied with this, lazily relying on the resurging cachet of Sandy Buttocks and Melissa McCarthy’s see-her-in-anything window? Director Paul Feig certainly shouldn’t be, since it’s a massive step down from his movie-career making and McCarthy’s star making Bridesmaids.


The broad genre-plundering comedy often comes unstuck, refraining from Naked Gun-esque wholesale self-consciousness but settling instead on threadbare plots and fancy dress. Murphy’s first couple of cop outings succeeded because they threw his persona into vaguely plausible surroundings. The alternative is to play it large, which often means just going for lazy shit; see Police Academy. The Heat has far more in common with that than even the broadest of recent entries in the genre (Rush Hour, for example).  21 Jump Street surfs similar territory of tonal largess, but is much more focussed in terms of targets and plotting (and much funnier).


It would be churlish to begrudge the leads this success. Bullock’s never had much in the way of quality control but, as nice as it is to see an actress into her 50s pulling audiences on star power alone, it has to be acknowledged that the main reason this did so well is McCarthy. Like any number of comedians (and comediennes) getting their first taste of big screen success, audiences currently can’t get enough of her.  Let me rephrase that; US audiences currently can’t get enough of her. Yes, it’s the turbulent time some US comics have internationally. Both Bullock and McCarthy had another hit movie each last year. Sandy in the Oscar-nominated worldwide smash Gravity. McCarthy had Identity Thief, which was only really seen in the States. The Heat did okay internationally, but took significantly less than half its homegrown plunder. And, while it’s going swimmingly for McCarthy right now, it can’t be long before she has her Cable Guy moment. It’s inevitable. Feig clearly thinks she’s gold dust, as he’s lining up – yes – a spy spoof next. No doubt McCarthy will fart and belch and saying revolting things while making a virtue of lacking the average spy’s athleticism as she proves she really is a very good agent.


She comes up with some decent routines here, but there are more that miss the target. That’s inevitable when you have an improv-inclined director letting the camera run and run (Feig also makes a cameo).  The plot is peanuts; McCarthy’s slobbish cop (but a good cop!) and Bullock’s anal FBI agent (but a good FBI agent!) team up for a comedy of differences in order to nail the nefarious drug lord. Inevitably they become best of chums. McCarthy stole the show in Bridesmaids (as wonderful as Kristen Wiig is in EVERYTHING), but part of that was a result of bringing her down-to-earth, salty rotundity to a proper character-based comedy. Here, she and Bullock are supported by the thinnest of crutches so the rest of the movie, on her part at least, is a lot of shouting and saying “Look at me!” even when it (frequently) isn’t adding anything.


The movie’s at its worst when it’s indulgent, not because it goes beyond taste boundaries but because it tries too hard to shock or offend or just plain doesn’t know when to shout cut. There’s a severed tongue protruding from a victim’s arse, a dance montage to Groove in the Heart that’s interminable (which may be the point, but it isn’t endearing), a tracheotomy that is textbook-mistaking gross-out for always funny. Likewise, there’s something distastefully desperate about attempts to eke laughs from the bad guy getting shot in the dick twice. At least Robocop had some context.  And then there are the awful music montages, the lazy moviemaker’s first port of call. Unfortunately Bullock gets the worst line, their mission statement, dreadfully delivered (“We’re the fucking Heat!”)


McCarthy does have a string of good lines, but they don’t make a good movie. You can see from the extensive outtakes she’ll try anything, which is fair enough. It’s Feig’s job to make them coherent. So the best include “Who closes the door to take a shit?”, “Who’s your wife? A five pound bag of flour with a hole in it?” (if in doubt, come up with an obscure minority to offend; in this case albinos); “Are you okay? You look really pale”), “It’s cheese. Cheese doesn’t go bad”. And I enjoyed her taking down a drug dealer with a watermelon (“See? I told you you was a racist!”) I also kind of did like the stabbing in the leg (“I’ve got to put it back in!”), even if it qualifies as whoring for grossness.


A few of the supporting cast get a look in. Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen) plays the overburdened, rather than shouty, police captain, and Dan Bakkedahl has fun as the albino cop. Tony Hale wishes he'd steered clear of hookers. Michael Rapaport is still getting work, it seems. There’s also a subdued Marlon Wayans on winning form (although take a look at the outtakes and you’ll quickly find yourself reconsidering his charms). You won’t care about the villains, or who their boss guy is, though. You wont even care when a terribly forced moment causes our buddies to fall out, only to make up five minutes later.


McCarthy clearly revels in this kind of mediocrity, and because of her “Don’t give a shit” attitude comes out of it fairly unaffected (other than the cumulative message not to go and see another of her crappy movies). It’s Sandy I feel for. She’s such a good sport, and strolls through all the crudity and obscene language like a trooper, but it isn’t really her thing. Not that she needs to go off and purify herself with a romcom, but the effect isn’t so much one of mucking in as being dragged down to the level of Feig, McCarthy, et al.  On the other hand, the prospect of McCarthy sharing a scene with Jason Statham (in the forthcoming Spy) just seems perfect. Of course, it will most likely also go on about 40 minutes longer than necessary.


**

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.