Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Cinema File #215: “The Heat” Review

Since showing up as the breakout character in 2011's Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has arguably become one of the most successful female comedic actresses working today. Her talent is obvious and undeniable, as is the shameful way in which it has been abused of late. Whether its a brief cameo in This Is 40 or a painfully long starring role in Identity Thief, the idea that someone with such a clear acumen for improvisation would be pigeon holed into playing the same character over and over and over again just seems like a waste. In her latest film The Heat, she's teamed up with Sandra Bullock, who after a much longer career filled with many bland romantic comedies knows what wasting comedic potential is all about. The result is, surprisingly, not as bad as expected. It's not great by any means, but based on the low standards I had going in, I found myself laughing about as much as I was sighing or rolling my eyes.

The Heat is the story of a hyper-efficient socially awkward FBI agent forced to work with an abrasive trigger happy Boston police officer to track down an elusive and murderous drug dealer. On the one hand, the film and its director Paul Feig should be commended for building upon the example of Feig's Bridesmaids, crafting a female led comedy that thankfully eschews most if not all of the cliches associated with so-called “Chick Flicks,” including perhaps most nobly almost completely avoiding any romantic subplot whatsoever. On the other hand, that's not to say the movie is free of cliches, and for the most part its basically a mediocre buddy cop movie that ten years ago would have starred two men, and here just happens to star two women, as if that change alone is enough to make a movie feel fresh and new. It almost does, but that says more about the sorry state of modern cinema and the industry's continued lack of faith in female-centric projects than it does the quality of this particular movie.

Bullock and McCarthy are good together, and its easily the funniest either of them have been in some time. Their characters aren't particularly complex and what few traits they do have are mostly there to set up the various Odd Couple style bickering the film is designed for, but then this is the kind of movie that doesn't really demand or require them to be anything more than that. If anything, most of the time in comedies like this, those maudlin moments of supposed character growth only serve to slow things down, and here they are thankfully kept to a minimum. More to the point, neither character individually or collectively is as annoying as I was dreading they would be based on the trailers, save for one scene in a dance club that starts off on the wrong foot and goes on far too long. That being said, each of these actresses has a tendency to be grating in very specific ways, and even though they are playing to those types (the snobby perfectionist and the caustic jerk), somehow Feig is able to channel those personalities into a less offensive paradigm.

If I had one major criticism regarding the characters, its that I've never understood why in movies with a straight laced professional type and a free wheeling slob, the professional always has to learn to cut loose, but the slob is never expected to clean up her act to reciprocate. I call this the Grease Problem, where just as Sandy must reject wholesome decency (ie. All the things you're supposed to be in real life) in favor of the degenerate greaser lifestyle, its always the person who has their life together, even if their intelligence or outward perfection makes them an outcast, who has to change their ways to match the cool rule breaking character. Bullock's FBI wunderkind is ostracized because she's better than everyone else, and apparently the solution is to be more like the crazy woman who threatens everyone she meets with physical violence and probably shouldn't be allowed to be a police officer based on her behavior. I know that the universe of screwball comedies will always favor Oscar Madison over Felix Ungar, but why can't the one who does everything right get some props at some point? 

Keep in mind, you're talking to a guy who enjoyed Kevin Smith's Cop Out and hated The Other Guys in the same year, so when it comes to buddy cop movies, female-centric or otherwise, feel free to take everything I say with a grain of salt. For me, if given the choice between a too-clever meta deconstruction of a genre and a balls out earnest example of one, I'll go with earnest every time, and that's what The Heat is. At worst, its just a little too bland to write home about, every genuine laugh being separated by a good ten minutes or so of jokes that fail. Nothing fails spectacularly though, and there's enough here that I don't regret sitting through it, even if I can't really say it was worth the price of admission. If it comes on Netflix or some other on-demand service you've already paid for anyway, maybe give it a shot. 

Also, in doing research for this review, I discovered that Paul Feig was also the actor who played the thin camp counselor from Heveyweights who saves the dance by funkin' out to Love Machine. I have gained considerably more respect for him upon this realization. 

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