The Heat opens promisingly enough with a retro title sequence set to “Fight the Power (Part 1 & 2)” by The Isley Brothers. The groovy 70’s vibe instantly recalls classic buddy movies like Freebie & The Bean or Hickey & Boggs. Sadly, The Heat doesn’t even muster up to the level of Tango & Cash though it is a damn sight better than Cop and a Half.
Director Paul Feig follows up the immensely successful Bridesmaids by reuniting with Melissa McCarthy whose status has skyrocketed since then. McCarthy is Shannon Mullins, a tough detective in the Boston PD who has ruffled everyone’s feathers with her profane and tactless behavior. Even Mullins’ own family, who might be at home drinking with the Ward clan from The Fighter, doesn’t like her after she arrested her loser brother Jason (Michael Rappaport). Into her life saunters FBI Agent Sarah Ashburn whose own condescending, type-A personality has alienated her within the bureau in spite of her brilliant investigative mind. Mullins and Ashburn are reluctantly paired together to investigate a mysterious new drug lord who has emerged onto the scene.
The buddy cop film has largely been a male-dominated domain so a female version would have been an interesting twist. But, The Heat brings nothing new to the genre and lacks the wit and inventiveness of The Other Guys or 21 Jump Street. It seems as if screenwriter Katie Dippold (Mad TV, Parks & Recreation) did absolutely no research into how actual police work is done. The story is formulaic and disjointed with no real sense of suspense or stakes. The Heat hinges entirely on the chemistry of its two leads.
For the most part, Bullock and McCarthy rise above the second rate material they were handed. At first, their relationship is defined by sitcom contrivances. Mullins is uncouth and slovenly while Ashburn is uptight and conservative. One would rather use psychology when interrogating a suspect, the other throws a phone book at his face. That's about as subtle as The Heat gets. The film's funniest moments are clearly the scenes where McCarthy is allowed to run wild and go off script. She lobs hilarious tirades at an albino DEA agent (one of the movie's only absurdist gags) and a put-upon precinct captain played by former Back to the Future bully Thomas F. Wilson ("Has anyone seen the captain's balls?"). This is certainly a better vehicle for her than Identity Thief. Bullock has done the stiff authority figure (The Proposal) and the maverick cop (Miss Congeniality) before and equates herself well as the straight woman.
Feig doesn't have the firmest grip on action, but he knows how to fill out his supporting cast with a wealth of unique comedians. Only Feig would be inspired enough to cast Michael McDonald (Mad TV and Cougar Town) and stand-up comic Adam Ray as drug dealers. Mullins' brash Boston brood consists of Bill Burr, an underutilized Jane Curtin, and former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre. Tony Hale from Arrested Development has a funny turn as a husband trolling for prostitutes that gets taught a tough lesson by Mullins. Although, one has to wonder what the heck Oscar nominee Damián Bichir is doing in a nothing role as Ashburn's superior.
Imagine the movie that could have been had someone given the lead actresses a script more inventive and witty. As it stands, The Heat is mildly amusing and only recommended for the ardent fan of Bullock and McCarthy.
Rating: ** (*****)