"The Heat" Might Leave You Feeling Cold Review

Director Paul Feig, as of late, has defined his career by simply inserting X-chromosomes into comedies like The Hangover (2009) and The Other Guys (2010), and relabeling them Bridesmaids (2011) and this week’s The Heat.

Was that below the belt? Maybe if he were qualified, it wouldn’t hurt as much. In all fairness, Bridesmaids was duly funny, but The Heat is a flat follow-up that wholly relies upon the chic of women in typically male roles, without the supporting content, to applaud the change. Sandra Bullock portrays Ashburn, an uptight FBI agent plagued with a combination of pathetic social awkwardness and professional arrogance. (Anyone ever see The Proposal (2009) or Miss Congeniality (2000)?) Melissa McCarthy’s Mullins is a hard Boston police officer raised up from the streets. In the pursuit of drug kingpin Larkin, their personalities collide…

Sigh…you know where this is going.

As a comedy, The Heat is nothing special. Honestly, we all just want to hear the hilarious McCarthy. Fortunately, she does not disappoint. Her confusion over Spanx, sympathy for Ashburn’s sad life, and adoration of weapons carry the film as best they can. However, the narrative writing is so unimpressive that in the third act, it relies on three back-to-back montages to jerkily shove the story along, leaving the audience to impatiently await McCarthy’s next line.

The Heat is not without its shinning moments of humour, though, particularly of the grotesque variety. It is undoubtedly a challenge and risk to escalate a Heimlich maneuver, into an impromptu tracheotomy that results in a fountain of blood, but the film succeeds, without any question of hilarity. The real interest for The Heat is in viewing a female lead comedy. Already a rare find, but even more so when blended with action. Unfortunately, The Heat stumbles through feminism even worse than story.

Opening with a federal drug and gun bust, the audience quickly learns that Ashburn is a pompous agent because of her keen, Holmesian reason that out-detects even the drug sniffing K-9. Having closed more cases than any other agent in her office, she vies for a promotion, but her supervisor reveals that her “arrogance” and “competitiveness” may exclude her from the post.

Think of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes in the BBC modern re-skin Sherlock or Hugh Laurie’s medical detective in House, M.D.. They are supremely intelligent, highly skilled, and nearly always right. In turn, we cheer when they condescend superiors, break rank, and ride high horses. They earned it, and everyone else is feeble-minded.

However, when Ashburn is told equivalent behavior will cost her a promotion, and the story designs not to bolster the hero, but belittle her with weak, pitiful social graces, I cannot help but wonder…Is it because she’s a woman? Holmes and House certainly lack tact and charisma, but they are strong-willed, not lamentable. If they were denied a promotion, the viewer would fully expect and support their circumventing protocol and becoming the exceptional victor. Instead, The Heat frames the obstacle as justifiable for a quasi-Holmesian female. The previous examples preclude the Holmesian quality, leaving only gender as the differentiation.

At moments, the film’s feminist designs do stand out, particularly in comedic ways. It is refreshing to see two buddy cops bantering about vaginas, as opposed to penis sizes. Though, it is more interesting to watch the critique of trope-y bachelor excuses for one-night-stands. Mullins is approached several times by boy toys, who “had such a great time” and wonder “why [she] never called.” With Mullins’ tone-deaf, rehearsed lines, McCarthy expertly shows how dull it is to hear, “It’s not you. It’s me,” from the endless deluge of on-screen relationships, particularly in romantic comedies.

Unfortunately, that brilliant piece of comedy is mutated, when other characters question Ahsburn’s femininity. 

Whoa, whoa, whoa.…Wait…I understand suspension of disbelief and everything, but movie picture, you have to work with me. How am I supposed to believe people think Sandra Bullock is a man just because she wears a pantsuit? I remember being a teenager looking for pictures of Bullock online.

Why is it that McCarthy’s character turns down several excited suitors, while Bullock’s is thought to have a penis? Potentially a comedic reversal playing with weight? Fair enough, but don’t we remember the same joke, with the same actress in Bridesmaids? Isn’t Rebel Wilson’s character in Pitch Perfect used for an identical bit? Does anyone remember seeing a comedy, or really any film, where a thin, desired, confident woman turns down the sexual advances of several men? Are filmmakers using weight as a way to politely challenge female tropes because the inherent femininity of actresses like Bullock would make the confrontation unpalatable? Does that seem artificially groundbreaking?

Sorry, it just really bothers me that audiences are supposed to believe that anyone would find Bullock masculine.

In a completely different vein, Ashburn employs the familiar “officer ________ is the most courageous, honest hero cop that God ever sent to earth,” to defend Mullins’ eccentricities. Per usual, this assessment completely forgets that she willfully hit someone with her car, literally threw the book at a prisoner, and routinely threatened to shoot suspects between their legs.

Brave? Honest? Exemplary? This is a made and remade mistake in all action films, but when comedy makes light of violence instead of ridiculing it, the genre becomes banal and more importantly, dangerous.

McCarthy may literally be the only reason to pay admission to The Heat, and the benefits may not even offset the costs. If one viewer answers a phone call during your screening, you are deep in the red. 

Of course, it may peak your interest that according to IMDb, screenwriter Katie Dippold is already penning a sequel even before the original releases. Are you groaning, “sequel,” like the woman who sat behind me?

"The Heat" opens June 28, 2013 and is rated R. Action, Comedy. Directed by Paul Feig. Written by Katie Dippold. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock.

Jun
28
2013
Steven M. Paquin • Staff Writer

Once, I wanted to be a secret agent, but then I decided to do the pictures. 

For more of my thoughts on film, visit Silverscreen Chimera.  

 


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