The Heat is a hot mess of a movie. Though it’s credited to a single writer (Parks & Recreation staffer Katie Dippold), it has the kind of tonal inconsistencies and narrative sloppiness of one of those production disasters that list a half-dozen names. It’s also a fine example of how the pursuit for bigger shocks in the shock/gross-out school of comedy is showing that Hollywood screenwriters have even less a moral compass than we might’ve thought.
The film succeeds–because it entertains despite its deficits–largely on the back of Melissa McCarthy, best known for playing very large, very loud women in Bridesmaids and the recent Hangover III. Here she’s a Boston cop named Mullins who is crass, crude, and quite literally insane. She gets off a number of funny lines, provides some good physical comedy, and definitely attacks her role with unrestrained enthusiasm. Yet the film takes her character much too far. She is inexplicably abusive to her coworkers and superiors, to a handful of nerdy ex-lovers who dare say hello to her, to Sandra Bullock’s icy dork of an FBI agent, et cetera. It’s not believable that this woman is walking around free, much less holding a badge and a gun. Also, maybe this is just because I live in Oakland, or just the gun-fellating U.S. of A., but the film’s relentless abuse of police power is not funny. Drawing a gun on a nurse because she tells you not to use your cell phone in a hospital, for example, is not actually funny.
(Also not funny: Innocent bystander gets horribly killed just for passing through the women’s orbit, and two seconds later McCarthy cracks a joke. Yes, she’s not a likable person, and yeah, it’s a comedy, but still … tasteless in a way that’s not entertaining.)
Bullock plays second banana straight man to McCarthy’s zesty insanity. She’s an uptight, friendless FBI agent whose insufferable arrogance is seen, in part, as a response to the feds’ female-unfriendly cop culture. When the case she must solve to get a promotion she clearly doesn’t deserve brings her into McCarthy’s world, the predictable hilarity ensues. The uptight nerd must learn to loosen up, and the hostile, unrestrained slob must grow up some. In fact, Bullock gets suitably humiliated as McCarthy pulls her off her high horse, and seems a better person for it by the film’s end, but McCarthy doesn’t much change at all, other than coming to like Bullock.
Not much of the A-quality material was left out of the trailer, which helps make the film seem too long. Which it is–there’s a lot to cut here, including a mundane “let’s get drunk and sing along to 80s songs” sequence that adds nothing, and also, most of the last 30 minutes. The plot veers all over and makes absolutely no sense, occasionally remembering to make a big deal about the identity of the drug dealer our odd couple of cops are tracking–and then paying off that mystery in an offhanded and unbelievable way that underscores the writer’s complete indifference to telling an actual story.
With two more drafts of the script, abetted by a little research, this film might’ve had a tight story to frame the hijinx. As it is, we have a flaccid flick with some definite laughs, and two female leads who pass the Bechdel test with almost every single line of dialogue. That’s to be applauded, and supported. I’d support it more enthusiastically if this film were stronger, like director Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids.