July 21, 2013

The Heat

I can't say that I loved The Heat as much as I loved Bridesmaids (both of which were helmed by director Paul Feig), but I howled my way through it just the same. How can you not, especially when Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy have such a wonderful onscreen chemistry? The Heat is nothing new, really: the old unlikely buddies plot with the one novelty being the gender of the buddies. As the by-the-book, cocky FBI agent, Bullock is despised by everyone in her department, but considers herself a success because she does her job better than anyone she knows. It's that old career-woman-with-a-chip-on-her-shoulder facade, one which Melissa McCarthy, as the brash, pushy, get-in-your-face-and-cuss-you-out Boston undercover cop, seeks to tear down with a wrecking ball.

The story involves a Boston drug dealer and hits close to home for McCarthy's character: her brother was working for this enigmatic dealer, and has just been released from prison. (She had him arrested herself, a point of betrayal in the eyes of her obnoxious, stereotypical Boston family, headed by SNL alum Jane Curtin, who's sadly given nothing memorable to do.) 

I don't suppose we go to comedies for novelty anymore. And if we do, we probably go to independent films like The Kings of Summer or something by Wes Anderson. Comedies became sitcom-level affairs probably in the 1960s, and with few exceptions, very little has changed about them. The old formulas continue to make money as long as the right faces are acting them out. As tried-and-true farces continue to be greenlit by the big studios, the only compensation for weary audience members is the acting. And we're lucky to live in a world, so green and young and still blinking with weariness under the new light of the morning sun, in which Melissa McCarthy is as celebrated as she is.

McCarthy's performances made Bridesmaids, a superior formula comedy, and Identity Thief, an inferior one, not just watchable but lovable, at least partly. And she offers the same saving grace to The Heat, but she's matched by Sandra Bullock, who's at her best when she's being a clown. (Who remembers that she was in a drama like Crash, or the ridiculous thriller The Net, when she's given us much better times in movies like The Proposal, not a great movie, and now The Heat, a pretty good movie?)

A caveat on excessive profanity: As a teenager, I developed a fondness for bad language, perhaps because it was verboten. Somehow, a four-letter word can magnify the comic force of a line exponentially, if done right. But, it needs to be done with creativity and enough actual ideas to justify itself. Melissa McCarthy peppers her dialogue with F words, and while some of them work, the total effect is a kind of numbing of the senses. You get the idea that she thinks this is the only way to be funny. (And yet, she managed a very funny character in Bridesmaids without using the F word every three seconds.) Meanwhile, it was delightfully amusing that Bullock's character refused to cuss, and when she finally did (during her predictable change-of-heart, in which she realizes how stuffy she is and how "good" her partner is at her job), it was quite amusing. (And I thought back to The King's Speech, when Colin Firth erupts into a torrent of profanity during a particularly frustrating session with his speech therapist.)

The Heat will probably catch some flack with critics because it is absolutely unbelievable. These ladies would never get as far as they do in reality, without either getting themselves killed or dismissed from duty. But, who goes to these kinds of movies for realism anyway? It is an uproarious if imperfect diversion. Written by Katie Dippold. With Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, and Taran Killam.

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