CinemaCon Film Review – The Heat
It was with great anticipation that I awaited Paul Feig’s follow-up to Bridesmaids. While not the first of its kind, that film proved that female raunch comedies could be profitable. Feig has long been one of my favorite directors, as throughout his career he has cultivated a reputation as both a talented filmmaker and an innovator. Continuing his tradition of going against the grain, Feig is now taking on the buddy cop movie with The Heat. It’s an arena that has long be dominated by male stars, but he has two powerful resources at his disposal in Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.
The story follows Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock), who heads to Boston in hopes of impressing her boss and getting a promotion. There she runs into Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), a relentless detective, and the two have to discard their territorial natures in pursuit of solving their case.
The female cop comedy isn’t anything new—after all, Bullock was quite successful with the Miss Congeniality movies almost a decade ago—but those always felt vanilla to me, as if the only way to have a strong female agent was to put her in a “female environment.” But the female buddy cop movie is a much more rare occurrence, as this type of movie typically ends up being just a friendship story (like Fried Green Tomatoes or Thelma and Louise) when they feature women. Though it would be more on point to compare The Heat to Lethal Weapon or something of that ilk, the comparisons to Bridesmaids‘s success are inevitable. The reality is that the two films aim for different markets. Sure, both are quite funny, but there is a tenderness in the characters in The Heat that isn’t present in Bridesmaids, which focuses more on the outrageous belly laughs. The laughs in The Heat aren’t quite as hearty or frequent, but the drama and action are amped up to fill the void.
It was no surprise that after her breakout success in Bridesmaids, Feig wisely decided to bring McCarthy back for another round. She is immensely talented, and showcases that again here. But much like with her performance in Identity Thief, there is an element of “more is more” that would’ve been improved by toning it down a bit. While she is hilarious, it’s in the dramatic moments that I find her most likable. She’s worked in drama for a large chunk of her career, in projects like Gilmore Girls, so it is no surprise that she is immensely skilled there. If she finds a way to balance the comedy so that it isn’t always quite so over the top, he could be unstoppable.
Meanwhile, Bullock is a perfect ying to McCarthy’s yang, as she has a knack for playing uptight characters as well as anyone in the business. Dating back as far back as Demolition Man, it never ceases to entertain when she makes that turn to loosen up. Again, their comedy is fun, but I enjoyed the characters’ serious moments together the most, and I think the actresses would be great together outside of a comedy setting.
The first half of the movie is structured like any good buddy cop movie, with two people forced to work together under less than desirable circumstances. This is entertaining enough, but you really are just waiting for the later half to begin, when they finally join forces. The biggest fundamental challenge in buddy cop movies isn’t the second half, because that is almost always when the characters team up and finally begin to kick ass, but is actually the first half. There, characters have to ride the line between being entertaining and frustrating. If they are too funny, the dramatic tension won’t build enough, and if they are too combative, it can be difficult to empathize with the characters. The Heat does a good job of building the tension, though some of the introductory scenes with the characters meeting each other could’ve been trimmed down to better help the balance.
The film plays out largely like you would expect it to given the genre conventions, but it isn’t without surprise. The great performances from Bullock and McCarthy are expected…but the biggest shocker? Marlon Wayans, in a non-comedic role, was incredibly charming. Look, I know the guy has built his career upon being funny, but this clearly shows that if he wanted to be a leading man, he could certainly do it. It has been over a decade since his outstanding work in Requiem for a Dream, and this serves as a reminder that he should be doing more work like that, instead of trying to follow the Adam Sandler career playbook.
The Heat is a lot of fun, and will certainly please audiences. For those expecting Bridesmaids 2, you won’t be getting it, but if you go in with an open mind it will still be quite entertaining. I don’t expect this film to revolutionize a genre like Feig did with Bridesmaids, but hopefully it will open the doors to another wave of something more interesting than Miss Congeniality. The odds are good, as he has a history of being a trendsetter. It seems likely that this film will generate a sequel, so it is probably time to get used to another fun buddy cop duo.
Final Grade: B+