FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is sent to Boston to track down a drug lord, Larkin. When she’s forced to work with local cop Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), the pair quickly come to blows, but bond as the investigation continues. With two sexist DEA agents also on Larkin’s tail, can the women get there first?
Consider Melissa McCarthy’s scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids, it’s no surprise director Paul Feig signed her up for this buddy comedy. An aggressive tomboy with a sneering wit and a resulting lack of friends, Shannon Mullins is the perfect McCarthy character, especially given the actress’ talent for improvised insults.
As FBI agent Ashburn, Sandra Bullock has a less showy role. This is Bullock as the straight person: a brisk, efficient, emotionally stunted workaholic who’s as unpopular with her male counterparts as Mullins. She’s there to reel in horror at Mullins’ unprofessionalism, her own comedy coming from her fish-out-of-water status (anywhere that sells alcohol being a fruitful opportunity). But as they take on the men — both criminals and cops — who constantly undermine them, The Heat makes serious points about workplace gender relations. It also brings warmth through the women’s solidarity. But the film doesn’t dwell on either sentiment or politics, quickly undercutting every soft note with a hard-as-nails gag.
What The Heat lacks is a decent plot. Writer Katie Dippold (Parks And Recreation) can create funny characters, but her story is slight. A cartoony caper involving cut-out bad guys and unlikely shoot-outs, it’s the stuff of an ’80s B movie. The only reason to wait it out is to see Ashburn and Mullins stick it to the man — which you’re pretty sure they’re going to do anyway.
Still, dialogue and performances entertain. Like Bridesmaids, The Heat has stand-out scenes with cult potential. “What’s she doing?” asks a puzzled Ashburn as Mullins hunts around her boss’ office. “She’s looking for my balls,” sighs Captain Woods, amusingly played by Back To The Future’s Thomas F. Wilson. Feig has an eye for little details that up the comedy ante: Ashburn has a habit of over-pronouncing Spanish words in an attempt to impress, but this isn’t overplayed.
A few things are overplayed: a painting of Jesus playing baseball is worth a quick gag, not a running joke. But that’s swiftly forgiven when McCarthy delivers another comedy home run.
If Miss Congeniality teamed up with Bridesmaids’ Megan, it might look something like this. The cruder gags won’t win everyone over, but McCarthy and Bullock’s chemistry helps paper over the plot cracks and there’s enough situation comedy to entertain.