‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new comedy The Heat is funny. Of course, it is also a copycat. Just think of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon series and you can see the template. But somehow when Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock team up with almost exactly the same kind of story, it comes out funny. People were amused at Gibson’s antics, but McCarthy, being female, is able to take them a few steps further. When Gibson showed off his weapons, it was a moment that demonstrated his disintegration; this new film shows a refrigerator/arsenal as a comedy prop.
Bullock plays Sarah Ashburn, a scarily efficient FBI agent, who manages to alienate all the men around her. In this film, you never see any women officers other than the two stars — and the men are not particularly useful, grateful or intelligent. There is a smug “we’re the women and we’re so much smarter than all those men” motif that would be ruined by having other women in that position.
Ashburn loves to show off how smart she is (and she is) and is amazed to realize that no one wants to work with her. She is sent to Boston to deal with a powerful, murderous drug importer who seems invisible.
She quickly offends McCarthy’s Shannon Mullins (she is never called by her first name), a foul-mouthed, boisterous, over-the-top cop. The two women battle each other and then start to grudgingly work together. And, as in all movies of the type, they begin to bond as they try to find the drug lord.
McCarthy’s character comes from a large, boisterous Irish family that brings stereotypes to a new high (or low). She has been alienated from them ever since she arrested her brother on drug charges and sent him to prison. Watching Ashburn dealing with them, while Mullins grills her brother in a separate room, was a great way to remember how effective Bullock is at comedy.
There are a number of set pieces that are ferociously funny. Watching Mullins go over to a john trying to pick up a hooker, grabbing his phone and calling his wife to tell her what’s been going on, pulling him out of the car through the window, then learning that his reason for cheating is that his wife just gave birth and that “things down below are sort of strange” was very funny. The two women trying to get sexy in the ladies’ room of a fancy nightclub was great, as was anytime Mullins dealt with her family.
The two actresses pair up well. Both are masters of physical comedy; McCarthy for her use of her size and Bullock for her awkwardness. Together, they create a wonderful symbiosis: they play off each other really well.
They also don’t hide the physical elements. Bullocks gets a wonderful sequence where, after being stabbed in the leg, she has to make her way to the right hospital room to save the day. Her trials with a wheelchair, not to mention crawling through the halls, was hysterically funny at a time when most movies would have simply focused on coming to the climax.
This is a great pairing; with luck, we will see them again, whether in The Heat 2, or some other movie. Director Paul Feig, who did a great job with Bridesmaids last year, was able to not only follow in the footsteps of all the genre films that he emulates, but brought in a sentimental element that sets it apart. Having women in the traditional roles allowed that. A final scene during the credits brought “ahhs,” from the women in the audience.
In the season when most of the movies are blockbusters, where super and other heroes reign, The Heat is a wonderful change of pace. You can sit back, relax and watch a couple of masterful actresses doing what they do best. And, of course, they caught the bad guy in the end.
Go and enjoy the film. There are not too many comedies this summer, and not very many really good ones at any time.