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.