1. Life & Culture

Review: Melissa McCarthy is hot, 'The Heat' is not

Sandra Bullock doesn’t stand a chance with Melissa McCarthy.
Sandra Bullock doesn’t stand a chance with Melissa McCarthy.
Published Jun. 28, 2013

You have the right to remain silent throughout The Heat, a buddy cop comedy banking almost entirely on Melissa McCarthy's aggressive appeal and carpet f-bombings. You may even have a responsibility not to laugh, so the inevitable sequel might be funnier.

The Heat will be a hit, no doubt. McCarthy's teaming with Oscar winner Sandra Bullock is perfect casting for an underwhelming script that in the '70s might have been cast with men and played seriously on TV. Flipping genders and tables on the badge-and-bullets genre with such oppositely attractive women is a no-brainer. Starsky and Butch. Can't miss.

Yet it often does, when director Paul Feig — who revitalized feminine comedy with Bridesmaids — allows McCarthy's improvisational instincts to take over because, honestly, nobody else in the cast can stand up to her. McCarthy is the best thing about The Heat, spinning crude riffs about shrunken masculinity, albinos, whatever strays into her impulsively twisted path. She's also part of the movie's weakness, helping it stretch about 20 minutes too long.

McCarthy plays Shannon Mullins, a Boston detective in the same biker wear and bust-your-face mode for the entire movie. Shannon scares her colleagues and keeps an arsenal in her fridge but appears to have a confident sex life, with former one-night stands popping up to beg her for seconds. It's a role squarely in McCarthy's kill zone.

Bullock is overwhelmed by her co-star's wake. She plays Sarah Ashburn, an FBI agent whose smug superiority over her colleagues makes her, like Shannon, an outsider. Sarah's only friend is a cat and that belongs to her neighbor. Bullock's performance is a slow burning fuse leading to a third act burst of McCarthy-level brashness. No joke set-up should be that long.

Sarah is assigned to capture a Boston drug kingpin and the FBI doesn't know what he looks like. Solving the case puts her in line for a promotion. She'll need Shannon's street contacts but could do without the gun brandishing, informant torturing and dirty talk. The Heat is a procession of verbal assaults, indignant shock and retaliated insults between Shannon and Sarah until sharing a drunken montage and making nice.

Feig shoots the movie like a '70s cop show. There's a touch of grit to Robert Yeoman's cinematography, with Michael Andrews' waka-waka musical cues adding to the nostalgia. But the screenplay is rough, with the drug bust angle lamely plotted and a forced sidebar concerning Shannon's ex-con brother (Michael Rapaport).

It's all erratic fun and games, just becoming exhausting when a homestretch sprint offers an idea of what The Heat's sequel will be like: Bullock in camo and leather, strapped with ammo and catchphrases, and McCarthy emboldened by having someone ready to share internal affairs investigations and the load of carrying a movie.


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