June 26, 2013



THE HEAT:  Watch It At Home – A Functional Vehicle for Two Strong Stars

Let’s face it:  it doesn’t really matter what THE HEAT is about.  A streetwise Boston cop, a straight-laced FBI agent, some crimes that need solving, teamwork imposed on the pair, hostility that turns gradually into friendship, a few mutual life lessons learned along the way–yadda yadda.  I’m sure screenwriter Katie Dippold, a writer/producer on Parks & Recreation, worked hard on the script and all, but with due respect to her efforts, in a sense the dialogue here could be in Pig Latin, because the only reason The Heat exists is as an excuse to put Sandra Bullock on screen with Melissa McCarthy, the question being whether they make a fun, engaging on-screen team.

And they do.  Bullock, as it happens, plays the FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn by name, and the role is so close to the one she played in Miss Congeniality and its sequel that one imagines copyright lawyers scrutinizing the script pages with a jeweler’s loupe, trying to discern enough differences so Warners couldn’t sue the production.  McCarthy, as Detective Shannon Mullins, does a variation of the wild-woman character she showcased in Identity Thief, even though this time she’s more or less on the right side of the law.  Both Ashburn and Mullins, under their very contrasting kinds of frosty, hostile public faces, have similar hearts of gold and commitment to their jobs, so it’s only a matter of time until they bond.  The movie is funniest when they can’t stand each other–Bullock stares at McCarthy as though she’s never imagined such a person existing on earth, let alone as a cop, and McCarthy treats Bullock like a very slow, very annoying child–but one understands why eventually the movie had to embrace the “buddy” part of being a buddy comedy.

Director Paul Feig, who was behind the camera for McCarthy’s breakout role in Bridesmaids, surrounds the starring pair with a group of very good actors, most of whom have little to do.  They include Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Taran Killam and Dan Bakkedahl as other law enforcement officers, and Jane Curtin, Michael Rappaport and Nathan Corddry as Mullins’s loud, shady family.  The latter group gets some chances at its own laughs, notably in a family dinner sequence where everyone yells at everyone else, but mostly the supporting cast stays out of the two stars’s way.

The idea that releasing a movie built around a pair of women no longer in their 20s that doesn’t turn into a rom-com is somehow an act of bravery just shows how far behind television the movie business is these days (last night Rizzoli & Isles started its 4th successful season on TNT, hardly the home of revolutionary art projects).  But considering that Bridesmaids was considered the sign of a new zeitgeist, it’s worth noting that The Heat is content to be the female version of a bromance, a term someone online will no doubt coin a one-word version of any minute now.  The Heat is a much more conventional star and genre vehicle, so less likely to create the kind of excitement that Bridesmaids had, but in a summer of men (of steel, of iron, even of cartoon monster-dom), it does stand out from the mega-movies that surround it.

It would be easy to criticize the slowish pace, the barely workable storyline, the medium-level visual style of The Heat, but even if you’re aware that it’s as cynical a big-studio project as any buddy-cop comedy with men in the leads, the charm of Bullock and McCarthy works on you after a while, and it’s hard not to smile at the two of them together.  By the time they’re exchanging grudging gestures of respect, you feel like the actresses, and the characters as well, have earned it.  A follow-up seems less a question of whether than when.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."