It’s an interesting weekend. I can’t honestly claim to have enjoyed either “White House Down” or “The Heat,” but I would say that in both cases, if you look at the trailer and it looks like something you’re interested in, go. You’ll absolutely enjoy yourself.
If you want to see Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx make jokes and play “Die Hard,” you’ll get your money’s worth. And if you think two hours of Melissa McCarthy wringing variations out of the word “fuck” while Sandra Bullock plays a tight-ass sounds hilarious, “The Heat” is going to be your favorite movie this summer.
I would give “The Heat” a truth in advertising award because they are selling you exactly the movie they made. Paul Feig is a very funny man, and working from the script by Katie Dippold, he’s made exactly what he set out to make… a buddy cop film with two women in the leads. Nothing more, nothing less. In its own way, it’s sort of quietly revolutionary just because they don’t dress it up or pretend it’s more significant. I know that when I went to go see “Beverly Hills Cop” or “Running Scared” or “Midnight Run” or whatever… what I was buying a ticket for was the combination of the specific comic personas and some gun play and car chases. It’s a pretty simple formula, and “The Heat” plays by the rules, start to finish.
We’ve got a gallery coming sometime this weekend of our favorite buddy comedies, and the whole HitFix staff voted. I wasn’t able to land “Freebie and the Bean” a spot on the list, but the reason I was so vocal about it is because, honestly, that film is still the template that is being followed all these years later, and no matter what combination of performers you put in it, no one’s really pushed the formula forward. In fact, I don’t think you can. I think it is what it is. The only variables are how you balance the humor and the action and who you cast. Some films err on the side of more comedy, some films err on the side of more action, but they’re all playing this sort of balancing game. I think the comedy is far more interesting to Feig, and so while there are some car chases and gun fights, he seems far more eager to get back to the next scene where McCarthy can be a force of nature and Bullock can get flustered by her.
Here’s where I explain that I think Sandra Bullock is very good in drama, and I think she seems like she’s very charming and funny in real life, but on film, I don’t have the same sense of humor as her. At all. One of the few films I’ve walked out of in a theater was the original “Miss Congeniality.” It was about 30 minutes into the film, and she fell down for the 10,000th time, and I realized I could predict every beat for the rest of the running time and I couldn’t imagine actually sitting there to watch it play out. I’m sure there are plenty of people I think are hilarious who someone else doesn’t get at all, and that’s one of the magic things about comedy. It’s a very basic thing. It either makes you laugh or it doesn’t, and I’m not in the group of people who find Bullock funny on film. My wife’s favorite movie of all time is… wait for it… “Miss Congeniality.” So I’m guessing she’ll be the perfect audience for this movie, because Bullock is right in her comfort zone here.
Melissa McCarthy has moved very quickly since the release of “Bridesmaids” to sort of define who she is and how she does things, and Feig seems to have given her a lot of latitude to help define her character. She is blisteringly non-stop profane, and she rains violence down on the people around her almost continuously. Very little of the humor deals with her size, and that’s probably the thing I like most about her. She certainly uses her physical presence as part of her humor, but it’s not just non-stop fat jokes. Both she and Bullock are presented as capable cops in their own way, so the joke isn’t “Well, look at these silly ladies thinking they can be tough.” Instead, as in most buddy comedies, it’s the friction between their very different personalities that is the source of almost all of the humor.
Feig seems to have the most fun with his supporting cast. Marlon Wayans gets to play charming as a fellow FBI agent who is fascinated by Bullock, and McCarthy’s family is a big, loud, unruly Boston mob that includes Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Bill Burr, Nathan Corddry, Joey McIntyre, and Michael Tucci, and they manage to get tons of mileage out of something as simple as the pronunciation of “narc” or whether or not someone’s sweatpants are “classy.” Kaitlin Olson of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is gone way too quickly in a brief role, as is Tony Hale at the start of the film.
Feig nods to the tradition of buddy cop movies with some of his scoring choices and with the characters played by Demian Bichir and Thomas F. Wilson, and when there is violence, I like that he doesn’t soft-pedal anything. Maybe the funniest gag in the film comes when the two are tied up late in the film and one of the bad guys leaves a knife buried in Bullock’s leg. The reason the film works, if it works at all, is because Feig never treats the plot as a joke. He is absolutely thrilled to let the actors riff for days, but not at the expense of the larger story. It’s the reason something like “Beverly Hills Cop” works, and it’s the same here. He takes it seriously enough that when we see them actually do something right as cops, it’s not a shock. That’s the world they live in. They may have extreme personalities, but they’re not jokes.
Lots of familiar faces show up in small roles in the film, including Feig himself, and I hope the film’s a giant hit because it’ll give him options for what he does next. I may not have been the audience for this film, but I can recognize when someone’s done everything right, and I have no doubt that there is an audience that’s going to love every single second of this thing.
“The Heat” opens everywhere today.