‘The Heat’: Heavy on Laughs, Light on Agenda

Modern cinema can be broken down into two specific distinctions: pre-Bridesmaids and post-Bridesmaids. In the former era, we had female-driven comedies like Outrageous Fortune, Sister Act, and Miss Congeniality — all considered box-office hits (the latter two warranted sequels). In our current era, when every six months or so there’s a debate over the comic abilities of women, it seems that any major release is a major coup for feminism. This year’s contribution to the cause of solving sexism in film is The Heat, directed by Paul Feig (who was at the helm of Bridesmaids), penned by Parks and Recreation writer Katie Dippold, and starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

The Heat follows the typical buddy-cop comedy plot: two vastly different officers — one an uptight FBI special agent (Bullock), the other a crude, hot-headed Boston policewoman (McCarthy) — are forced to work together and bust a dangerous drug ring. The plot isn’t important; it doesn’t even completely make sense. What is, however, is the brilliant physical comedy on display from the film’s two stars, both of whom have previously succeeded in similar roles and are perfectly cast in The Heat.

The film features some ridiculously funny moments, and it’s generous to Bullock and McCarthy, who mostly get the best lines. (Dan Bakkedahl comes close to stealing the show, playing an albino DEA agent, as does the criminally underused Jane Curtin as McCarthy’s mother). There are few surprising, over-the-top moments, however; the most shocking scenes tend to involve particularly unsettling incidents (in one scene, McCarthy’s loose-cannon officer vents her frustration by randomly assaulting a black man in the Boston ghetto, although I doubt there’s any deep stop-and-frisk commentary at play here). Overall, the film is a comic success, but there are enough faltering moments to prevent it from having much of a shelf life.

It’s the predictability that is perhaps the most disappointing. At first it seems like quite a shame that the only two major female characters are so clueless and bumbling, but in the grand tradition of the genre, it says less about their capabilities as female cops and more about how comedy works. (They are near-facsimiles of the male leads in last year’s 21 Jump Street.) While the two bond briefly over the difficulty of being women in their field, it’s understated and quickly glossed over. On the one hand, it’d be nice to bring a fresh take on oft-repeated cinematic tropes; on the other hand, The Heat is agenda-free, and the only lesson learned is that women can play hilariously dumb leads in an action comedy, too. But, of course, anyone with half a brain already knew that.