The Heat

130716 The Heat

This is an American comedy about the unlikely partnership (called 'the heat') between FBI special agent, Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and Boston Policewoman, Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), writes Peter W. Sheehan.

They come together to catch a ruthless drug lord, whose victims are chopped into little pieces.

Theirs is an unusual partnership. Sarah is uptight, anxious and controlling, and she is not used to being partnered, let alone being lumbered with a friend. She irritates virtually everyone around her, and uses her character to do comic variations of Gracie Hart in “Miss Congeniality” (2000). Trying to keep calm in a bumbling way, she is seen by her colleagues as “almost cool, almost”. Shannon, on the other hand, is sloppy, foul-mouthed, and very difficult to get on with. She too has always operated alone, and is friendless as well. Shannon is the kind of Policewoman who keeps an arsenal of firearms in her refrigerator at home.

The theme of odd people being forced to work together is a very familiar one in many movies and in this film the interaction between Bullock and McCarthy works very well. Both of them start off hostile to one another, but they graduate to warmth and understanding of each other as the film progresses. They team together in unexpected and comical ways to show us an anxiety neurotic getting along with someone, who is irrepressibly crazy.

The plot of the movie is formulaic and thin, but the two lead actresses give it all they have. There is solid chemistry between them, although the comedy that they generate is better than the movie they are in. The film creates the feeling one should sit out the plot a little longer, so as to wait for something enjoyable to come around the next bend, which mostly happens.

The Director of the movie, Paul Feig, gave us “Bridesmaids” (2011), and it is not surprising that he brings the same crudity to this movie as he did with that one. Both in this movie and that one there were lots of positive themes. Here, messages about friendship and loyalty come through strongly: good cops have to depend on one another, hostility between people with a common cause will eventually change to trust, engagement with nasty people is bound to lead to buddy-bonding, and true friendship always counts the most. Sarah and Shannon do bond, but mostly to the accompaniment of crude content that includes a lot of sexual references and exposure to considerable violence. But like “Bridesmaids”, Paul Feig seems to have a good sense of how to show comadarie among women. For example, Shannon’s tearing Sarah’s clothes to make her more suitable for nightclub mixing is not intended to embarrass Sarah (which it does), but is done out of “sisterly” regard.

The aggression in this film, both physical and verbal, is strong. The movie shows an execution, and there are shots of dismembered bodies. Nearly every scene is sprinkled liberally with swearing. Shannon hardly has a conversation without saying a four-letter word. Sarah starts off being totally unable to bear the slightest signs of profanity, but models on Shannon to use it at a dramatic moment.

Bullock and McCarthy show excellent comic timing, and handle well the development of mutual regard for one another. The film turns male action and vulgarity around, and offers us its female equivalent, and the chemistry between the two leads makes up for the absence of a tight plot. The film’s script is sharp and witty. Sarah was married for 6 years, to which Shannon quips “Was he a hearing man?”, and several remarks that are grossly politically incorrect can’t help but raise a laugh.

Laying aside the film’s vulgarity, the movie is a showcase for the formidable comic talents of Bullock and McCarthy. Two fine comediennes demonstrate their skills, and there are a number of impressive cameo performances threaded throughout to enjoy, particularly those associated with Shannon’s “awful” family.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

THE HEAT. Starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language, crude humour and violence). 117 min.

Twentieth Century Fox.

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