There is such a thing as overhyping a film. Case in point: “The Heat” starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Directed by Paul Feig, hot off “Bridesmaids”, the publicity machine has been working overtime since the film began production, amping up our expectations to such a point it would be difficult (if not impossible) for any film to meet, let alone exceed these expectations.
Everyone wants a female buddy film to succeed. There are a lot of talented actresses out there who are woefully underused and there are far too many bad male buddy films made every year. Give the women their due! This is one aspect of the film many media outlets have been touting for almost a year. Then, when you add Bullock, an A-Lister and Oscar Winner, McCarthy, an Emmy winner and extremely hot property, and Feig, who became an A-Lister after the success of “Bridesmaids”, the three are a match made in Holltywood heaven. The trio also give the publicity machine a lot to discuss.
Last November, I began to see the trailer for “The Heat” before at least 90% of the films I saw. I see a lot of films, so I saw the trailer a lot, many, many times. And my partner and I laughed every time. But when the television commercials started, everything seemed to become less funny. My partner even began to question if he wanted to see the film at all. Twentieth Century Fox had reached the oversaturation point.
When we did see it, I was underwhelmed. “The Heat” is a pretty funny film, but it isn’t funny enough. After all of the hype, I was expecting something hilarious.
FBI Agent Ashburn (Bullock) is not well-liked by her co-workers. When she learns her boss (Demian Bichir, TV’s “The Bridge”, “Weeds”, “A Better Life”) is going to get a promotion to Washington, she expects to be his replacement. But he knows she doesn’t get along with her co-workers and sends her to Boston to find a drug kingpin; one of his low-level dealers, Rojas, has just been arrested. Detective Mullins (McCarthy) arrests Rojas and takes him in. Ashburn arrives and insists on interrogating Rojas without Mullins approval or knowledge. Everyone in the station house knows this is a mistake, but Ashburn persists, unaware of Mullins’ reputation. When Mullins finds out Ashburn has begun interrogating her suspect, their relationship doesn’t get off on the right foot. As they continue to investigate the case, Ashburn’s by-the-book manner clashes with Mullins’ bull-in-a-china-shop attitude.
Bullock has played this role before, so it doesn’t offer any surprises. She does the uptight, by-the-book character well, so when we realize this is what Ashburn will be, and all she will be, it is a bit of a letdown. Bullock is an Oscar winner so when she does a role she could do in her sleep, it is like watching her do a television show. Worse, once we begin to get who Ashburn is, we know how, when and why her character will evolve.
Bullock is also the straight man to McCarthy’s Mullins. Again, this is the easy way out. It would be much more unexpected for Bullock to play the aggressive, down-and-dirty Boston detective. And if it worked, we would be discussing one of the most memorable films of the year. But because they took the easy way out, the film is simply OK and doesn’t overwhelm.
McCarthy is a very funny comedian who is just beginning to receive acclaim for what will be a long career in film and television. She is great in her TV show “Mike & Molly” and the film “Bridesmaids”. She made “Identity Thief” watchable. Her cameo in “The Hangover Part III” wasn’t interesting or funny, a misstep for this usually very funny comic. Basically, she is striking while the iron is hot and taking on many different projects. Unfortunately, the quality of the work varies quite a bit. This isn’t a problem only for McCarthy, every actor has ups and downs, but it seems like this problem could be avoided by being a little more choosy.
In “The Heat”, she plays Mullins, a foul-mouthed detective with a very short fuse. Very, very short. This short fuse is the catalyst for a lot of the comedy; she is extremely aggressive towards her captain, other detectives, Ashburn, her family, the criminals, everyone. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she begins to make extremely nasty threats, some of these are funny while others fall victim as an ad lib gone on too long. There is also a fair bit of physical humor; some of which works and some doesn’t. Ultimately, McCarthy’s performance is good, but it is a mixed bag. And since her performance provides the majority of the humor, the film suffers as a result.
Marlon Wayans pops up as Levy, a Boston based FBI agent assigned to help Ashburn. His performance has a few nice quirks making him more interesting than the rest of the supporting cast.
Jason, Mullins’ brother, played by Michael Rappaport, has recently been released from prison, serving a sentence his sister arrested him for. He may have a connection to the case and Mullins reluctantly agrees to visit her estranged family, led by Mom (Jane Curtin). Her entire family is strange and this leads to one of the extended scenes that just fall flat: Ashburn is forced to sit at the family dinner table while Mullins goes outside to talk to her brother. The family begins to interrogate the FBI agent, hurling insults about her sexuality and profession. Yeah, this is about as funny as it sounds.
The investigation is a pretty pointless affair, the duo seems to stumble on most of the information they gather and there isn’t a lot of detective work. But that isn’t really the point of “The Heat”; the point is to watch the two female stars interact with one another and generate some laughs. While there are some laughs, there aren’t enough. Because “The Heat” is all about their relationship, it isn’t very memorable either.
Because the film was so overhyped, my expectations were much higher. If the publicity for this film were just normal, the film’s average nature would be more acceptable. As it is, “The Heat” will play for years on cable; every time you are doing housework, and you catch a few minutes, it will make the mundane nature of your chores a little more enjoyable. But sit and watch the film as a whole? That would be a chore.