With a great deal of talent both in front of and behind the camera,The Heat seemed like a can’t miss comedy. The last time director Paul Feig helmed a theatrical comedy, the result was 2011’s surprise hit Bridesmaids, which turned Melissa McCarthy into a star. Reteaming with McCarthy for an R-rated buddy cop actioner, Feig falls short of recapturing the magic of Bridesmaids, with the screenplay providing very little substance for the predominantly able cast to work with. In spite of all that it had going for it, The Heat is an oddly flaccid comedy, providing very few worthwhile scenes in what’s otherwise an overlong mess.
A by-the-book, repressed FBI Agent based in NYC, Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is promised consideration for a promotion if she heads to Boston to bring down a drug operation. Although she believes she has the situation in the bag, she finds herself hindered by the foul-mouthed, reckless Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), an unbalanced detective who’s not willing to let Ashburn handle her case. The pair fail to see eye to eye, but are forced to team up in order to get the job done. Due to their opposite approaches to law enforcement, a great deal of friction develops between Mullins and Ashburn, which is only exacerbated by a couple of DEA agents (Dan Bakkedahl and Taran Killam) who disapprove of their efforts. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t take long for Mullins and Ashburn to bond.
The script for The Heat may be credited to Parks and Recreation veteran Kate Dippold, but the extent of her input is a mystery. Although the narrative is technically about drugs, Feig doesn’t seem too interested in this stuff; The Heat amounts to an endless string of superfluous scenes spotlighting the improvisational skills of its actors, interspersed with a few references to the big picture every once in a while that ultimately lead nowhere. The Buddy Cop Film formula is in full force here, with Dippold and Feig filling the picture with cliché after cliché. The notion of clichés is not bad in itself, but The Heat fails to re-energise its familiar narrative parts; rather, it feels like the film is perfunctorily ticking all the boxes, hoping that the talents of the stars will be enough to make it work. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to sustain the film’s two-hour duration, a ludicrously overlong running time for a picture with a disposable plotline. To Feig’s credit, the flick is skilfully-assembled, and isolated set-pieces do shine at least. However, there is one ridiculously fake explosion towards the end that’s more awkward than funny.
What’s most baffling about The Heat is its shortage of genuinely funny gags. The formulaic script and extended runtime could be forgiven if only the movie provided big laughs, but it only delivers in fits and starts. Much of the dialogue was clearly improvised, and after a while the profanity-laced bantering simply grows tiring. In fact, many of the jokes that worked in the two-minute red-band trailer actually fall flat here. The biggest problem is Feig’s inability to discipline his picture or keep it on a leash; his all-but-the-kitchen sink approach leads to far too many unnecessary scenes with limp comedic payoffs that do not advance the plot in any way. Take, for instance, a strange scene in which Ashburn attempts an emergency tracheotomy on someone who’s choking. It’s meant to reinforce that both of the protagonists are misguided, but we’ve seen this point demonstrated enough already, and the scene has no comedic value at all (it played to awkward silence in my cinema). There are also too many scenes involving McCarthy brandishing her firearm, a personality trait that delves into the realm of callous bad taste when she threatens a nurse in a hospital ER because she’s told not to use her cell phone.
Those who are tired of McCarthy’s brand of humour will not find much here to change their minds – this is very much an autopilot role for the actress, who was called upon to infuse Mullins with her unique shtick. She provokes a few laughs here and there, to be sure, but the material is beneath her talents, and it’s disheartening to see McCarthy wasting her time on films like this, Identity Thief, and The Hangover Part III. As for Bullock, her comedic chops are questionable, but she’s not too bad here. It’s hard to summon a great deal of enthusiasm about her, though, to be honest. The rest of the cast is packed with familiar faces who have nothing to do, as they take the back seat to make more room for McCarthy and Bullock. Marlon Wayans achieves precisely nothing as an FBI agent, though Frank F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future!!!) is a highlight as Mullins’ boss. Oh, and Michael Rapaport shows up as Mullins’ brother, in what must be his first big-screen appearance since the ’90s.
Admittedly, The Heat does have its moments, but the laughs are too few and far between for such a punishingly overlong motion picture. Feig was simply not interested in shaping a tight comedy, instead prolonging the experience as much as possible, leading to a dreary and directionless final product. Whatever potential might have existed in the original script disappears in the hands of this creative team.