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THE HEAT – The Review

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This year moviegoers finally felt the full force of a star that went supernova two years ago…a major comedy star named Melissa McCarthy. She had accumulated small roles in film and TV, but the surprise Summer smash of 2011, BRIDESMAIDS, made everyone take notice, even Oscar (she was a Best Supporting Actress nominee), when she stole almost every scene. Since then Ms. McCarthy’s kept busy doing a CBS sitcom named “Mike and Molly” (and has nabbed an Emmy) and last Winter she had an all too brief cameo in THIS IS 40 (you have to stick around for the end credits which included several unused takes that are a wonder of improvisation). But now we’re finally getting her in showcase movie lead roles (besides a very funny cameo in the otherwise dreary recent THE HANGOVER III). This past February she co-starred with Jason Bateman in the surprise box office hit (over $100 million and counting) IDENTITY THIEF. Now, in the middle of the big Summer blockbusters, McCarthy’s sharing the screen with an Oscar winner: Sandra Bullock! And this is a bit of a return for Ms. B also. After grabbing the gold for THE BLIND SIDE back in 2010, she was embroiled in a nasty break-up and disappeared from movie screens save for a brief role in EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE late in 2011. But she’s back in a big comedy, although it’s not close to the “rom-coms” that she’s best known for. THE HEAT is big cops versus thugs action comedy that would generally team up two big male stars (think RUNNING SCARED, STARSKY AND HUTCH, and the entire LETHAL WEAPON series). So after many, many shoot-em’-ups this movie season, can these two ladies truly bring THE HEAT?

After a nicely designed credit sequence that’s a tribute to 70′s and 80′s police thrillers, we meet NYC based FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock). She’s a top-notch file closer who is reviled by her fellow agents who believe her to be a “showboat”, a “know-it-all”, a..well you get the picture. When Ashburn reads of the promotion of her boss, Agent Hale (Demian Bichir), she decides to try for his old position. Before that can happen, Hale wants her to track down a new drug kingpin (they don’t even know what he looks like) in Boston. Turns out that their only lead, a low-level dealer named Rojas (Spoken Reasons), has just been busted by street cop Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) who is the polar opposite of Ashburn. She’s coarse, violent, unconventional, disrespectful and (like Ashburn!) disliked by her fellow officers. The two women immediately clash, but are forced to join forces. Can this mismatched duo work together and take down the bad guys? Hmmm…well..

Here’s the red band trailer! Warning NSFW!!

A flick like this only works when the two actors (or in this case actresses) connect. Well the chemistry between Bullock and Mccarthy is nearly off the charts. You could say that they’re almost the female version of the Abbott and Costello “template”: the taller, skinny aggressive fast-talker with the short, pudgy, dim-witted timid sap. But this relationship is much more complex than that. Bullock is  more articulate and cerebral, but she’s rather naive and too rigid. And in her way is just as funny as her louder partner. It’s hard to accept America’s “sweetheart” (sorry Reese, you lost the title with that “you know who I am?” fiasco earlier this year) as being disliked by her peers, but Sarah’s quite a prig when we meet her. It’s almost as if the other agents want the “perps” to succeed just see her smug, self-satisfied grin dissolve. It’s been a while since you exercised those comedy chops, Ms. B. Great to see you’ve not gotten rusty because Ms. M is back at the top of her game with this role. Her cop is a foul-mouthed whirling dervish of pain and destruction (the flick may set a new F-bomb record). But her new partner does bring out her softer side. These softer scenes play more naturally here than the clumsy attempts at pathos in IDENTITY THIEF. What’s also a neat twist is the fact the less glamorous cop has a lot more going on in the boudoir than the conventionally more attractive agent. Twice in the film Shannon runs into past beaus who are eager to re-connect, but she has the attitude most associated with swaggering male movie cops (“that was fun, but we’re done!”).  Finally a new funny female movie comedy duo! These two screen queens truly bring out the very best in each other.

Fortunately a dream team of comedy supporting actors join them in the fun. Tony Hale (the hook-handed Buster Bluth of “Arrested Development”) is a very unlucky “John” that’s busted in Shannon’s early scenes. BACK TO THE FUTURE baddie Biff, Thomas F. Wilson, is superb as the put-upon police captain. Kaitlin Olsen from TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is very funny as a very foul-mouthed drug supplier. “Mad TV” vet Michael McDonald is amusing and sinister as a creepy enforcer. “Daily Show” alum Dan Bakkedahl gets some laughs as a aggravated DEA partnered with current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Taran Killam. Speaking of SNL, one of the very first “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” Jane Curtain heads a great comic line-up as the Mullins matriarch: Michael Tucci from GREASE is pappa, with stand-up star Bill Burr, pop star Joey McIntrye, Nathan Corddry, and Michael Rapaport as the Mullins brothers. Seems that there’s a really gifted comic actor in almost every scene.

Well with comedy guru Paul Feig (creator of TV’s “Freaks and Geeks” and director of BRIDESMAIDS) at the helm could you expect any less? As with the 2011 hit Feig knows how to keep things moving while giving a chance for the characters to bond (he just has a real knack for bringing out the best in these funny ladies). With this new film Feig shows that he can handle broad slapstick along with big explosive action sequences. Luckily he has a terrific game plan courtesy of the first feature film script by TV scribe (“Mad TV” and “Parks and Recreations”) Katie Dippold. Contrary to the title, the best way to beat the Summertime blues is to savor the many, many joys of THE HEAT. But you may work up a pretty good sweat from the almost non-stop laughter.

4.5 Out of 5

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Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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