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

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

On account of you, I nearly heard the opera.

A Night at the Opera (1935)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers head over to MGM, minus one Zeppo, and despite their variably citing A Night at the Opera as their best film, you can see – well, perhaps not instantly, but by about the half-hour mark – that something was undoubtedly lost along the way. It isn’t that there’s an absence of very funny material – there’s a strong contender for their best scene in the mix – but that there’s a lot else too. Added to which, the best of the very funny material can be found during the first half of the picture.

I still think it’s a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.

Room Service (1938)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers step away from MGM for a solitary RKO outing, and a scarcely disguised adaption of a play to boot. Room Service lacks the requisite sense of anarchy and inventiveness of their better (earlier) pictures – even Groucho’s name, Gordon Miller, is disappointingly everyday – but it’s nevertheless an inoffensive time passer.

This better not be some 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea shit, man.

Underwater (2020)
(SPOILERS) There’s no shame in a quality B-movie, or in an Alien rip-off done well. But it’s nevertheless going to need that something extra to make it truly memorable in its own right. Underwater, despite being scuppered at the box office, is an entirely respectable entry in both those arenas from director William Eubank, but like the recent Life (which, in fairness, had an ending that very nearly elevated it to the truly memorable), it can’t quite go that extra mile, or summon that much needed sliver of inspiration to set it apart.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Goodbye, Mr Chimps.

At the Circus (1939)
(SPOILERS) This is where the brothers sink into their stretch of middling MGM movies, now absent the presence of their major supporter Irving Thalberg; it’s probably for the best this wasn’t called A Day at the Circus, as it would instantly have drawn unflattering comparisons with the earlier MGM pair that gave them their biggest hits. Nevertheless, there’s enough decent material to keep At the Circus fairly sprightly (rather than “fairly ponderous”, as Pauline Kael put it).