Following up his critical and box-office hit Bridesmaids, director Paul Feig has returned with another comedy, which despite the gender of said director, many have referred to again as a ‘female comedy’. Penned by debut feature writer Katie Dippold, and led by Sandra Bullock and Feig’s breakout Bridesmaids star, Melissa McCarthy, the humour in the film is certainly driven by that trio of very talented comedic women. But we don’t call The Hangover, for example, a ‘male comedy’, and if we’re approaching a point where we won’t define female-driven comedy by gender any more, it will be precisely because of movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat. And in that case, we’re going to need a more apt descriptor for them. So fine, call The Heat a ‘female comedy’ for now if we must, but let’s make sure we push that other f-word to the fore. Funny. The Heat is a ‘funny comedy’, and that’s surely the most important and notable thing about it.
Bullock plays FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, unpopular with her own colleagues due to her uptight nature and showing them up on the job, who’s sent to Boston to investigate a drug kingpin. There she meets McCarthy’s rebellious police officer, Shannon Mullins, and their wildly different approaches to police work clash when the cases they’re working overlap. It’s a classic buddy cop set-up. They’re chalk and cheese, but there’s a contrivance that forces them into working together, and who knows, they might just learn to get along and form a formidable partnership along the way.
The casting of McCarthy and Bullock is solid, and they build up a great rapport as the film’s so-so plot rattles along. Bullock’s good – but this is the kind of thing she could do in her sleep. So too, McCarthy, but she’s a comic actress at the top of her game right now, and this may be her finest work to date. Hers is the showier role of the two, but boy does she make the most of it, and Bullock wrings just enough humour out of playing it straight that the character doesn’t seem overwhelmed. She’s happy to sit back and let McCarthy steal scenes – one in particular in which Mullins searches her bosses office to locate his tiny balls springs to mind – while there’s space for other comics like Tony Hale to come in and steal the odd scene themselves in a number of excellently written individual sketches.
Where The Heat falls short, however, is in its story. The criminal plot at the film’s centre is forgettable. It’s just an excuse to push Mullins and Ashburn together. The villain’s identity remains shrouded in mystery throughout (although it’s easily guessable), but it’s by far the film’s least interesting aspect and hard to invest in. There’s a subplot that ties the case into Mullins’ family, but again that seems like more of an afterthought to what great comedic potential there is in a houseful of warring Bostonians.
There’s little in the way of any romance either (a good thing – not every comedy needs romance), so it just comes down to two characters who are very good at their jobs, getting into amusing situations while they’re on this adventure. The film then lives and dies by how funny each individual scene manages to be. Some hit the mark, others – Ashburn ‘saving’ a man from choking – it’s fair to say do not. Overall, though, the hit rate is pretty good, and the film gets by on just being funny. It can’t offer an awful lot beyond that, but it is funny an awful lot.