FILM REVIEW: THE HEAT

By Michael Phillips 2014-01-27

Tribune Newspapers Critic

3 stars

With so few women afforded the opportunity to steer the course of a movie -- any movie, on screen or off -- even a formulaic vehicle such as "The Heat" arrives as a surprise and a relief.

At its sharpest, "The Heat" actually moves and banters like a comedy, with sharply timed and edited dialogue sequences driven by a couple of pros ensuring a purposeful sense of momentum. The story places Sandra Bullock, playing a fastidious FBI agent, as an opposing force to Melissa McCarthy's brazen Boston cop. Mostly they're funny because of the material; elsewhere, they're funny in spite of it.

The good stuff's in the first 80 minutes. Screenwriter Katie Dippold ("MADtv," "Parks and Recreation") and director Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids" and plenty of good television series before that) eventually settle for action-movie cliches and locales (oh, that old abandoned warehouse full of venal criminal scum) without a fresh take.

The violence in the final third becomes a drag. One of these days, we'll get a buddy-cop lark with the nerve to tone down the sadism; here, it's a threatened-torture scene, following an emergency tracheotomy performed at a Denny's. And product placement has gotten pretty strange at the movies lately. Between the pulverized IHOP in "Man of Steel" and the blood-spattered Denny's in "The Heat," it's like: How 'bout eating in tonight?

But we must appreciate the payoffs where we find them. Bullock has been hereabouts before in "Miss Congeniality," but this is one of her best recent performances, full of pinpoint details and quirks. McCarthy, already an audience favorite thanks to "Bridesmaids" and "Identity Thief," is learning to modulate her act and find variations on the theme of volcanic bully. She was born, in all probability, with the ability to slay an audience and detonate a punch line. But she's actress enough to learn the value of variety within a comfortable persona.

In "The Heat" we're closer to full-on action mode, akin to "48 Hrs." or "Lethal Weapon" territory than a spoofy affair on the order of the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg movie "The Other Guys." Bullock's New York-based agent is bucking for a promotion. She travels to Boston to nail a drug lord. (We're done with the plot now, even if the film takes a full two hours to deal with it.) McCarthy's the tetchy local blowhard with a badge, a woman tough enough to put her own brother behind bars. As this odd couple learns to work together, the audience learns to forgive the scenes that don't quite work (an undercover assignment in a nightclub, where Bullock's character must fake skankiness) and swing with those that do (typically the off-plot riffs, allowing the actresses some breathing room).

A couple of examples of scenes that work? At one point, McCarthy bounces a little plastic Tic Tac box off her police chief's noggin, and the way director Feig films it -- calmly, without undue emphasis -- makes the gag even more successful. At another point, Bullock and McCarthy are in the frenemy stage of their working relationship, and McCarthy caps some fib or another with the line: "America thanks you." Bullock's reply: "And I it." Most buddy-cop movies, whether their focus is on explosions and stabbings or, in this case, explosions and stabbings plus some jokes, have zero facility when it comes to verbal flourishes along these lines. "The Heat" may overstay its welcome (a contractual obligation in Hollywood comedies these days), but I suspect audiences will take to it.

There. That takes care of the industry's semiannual investment in the "other" gender. Now we can get back to "The Hangover 4: Whatever."

MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence).

Running time: 1:57.

Cast: Melissa McCarthy (Mullins); Sandra Bullock (Ashburn).

Credits: Directed by Paul Feig; written by Katie Dippold, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg; produced by Feig, Dylan Clark, Jenno Topping and Peter Chernin. A Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

Wanted in US, Roman Polanski questioned in PolandPolish prosecutors question filmmaker Roman Polanski, wanted in US on 1977 sex charges
The Associated Press20 minutes ago
FILE - This Feb. 22, 1982 file photo shows actor and movie director Orson Welles during a press conference in Paris. Welles’s last film may finally be nearing release after decades as one of cinema’s most storied unfinished creations. The New York Times  reported Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, that a Los Angeles-based production company, Royal Road Entertainment, has agreed to buy the rights to Welles’ largely unseen “The Other Side of the Wind.”  (AP Photo/Jacques Langevin, File)
Orson Welles' last film may finally be releasedAmong cinema's most storied unfinished works, Orson Welles' final film may finally be released
The Associated Press12 hours ago
Review: Jake Gyllenhaal, tightly coiled and creepyFilm review: Jake Gyllenhaal entrances as a creepy, ambitious cameraman in 'Nightcrawler'
The Associated Press20 hours ago
New Batman Affleck backs bat-protection effortsAffleck, in Detroit for 'Batman' film, makes video in support of area bat conservation group
The Associated Press20 hours ago
In 'Nightcrawler,' Gyllenhaal is on the prowlIn 'Nightcrawler' and elsewhere, Jake Gyllenhaal is on the prowl
The Associated Press20 hours ago
Movie News