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Thursday, July 11, 2013 03:29 pm

Heat can’t warm these leftovers

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If I were to substitute salt for sugar while making a cake I would have a dessert that would look about the same but would be a bit of a disaster. In making The Heat, director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold take the same approach to the buddy/cop movie by focusing on female law enforcement officers instead of male. Not a radical conceit to be sure and as a result, not one that radically transforms this genre exercise. This action/comedy delivers the same ole, same ole with overblown action sequences, cracking wise and enemies turning into frenemies being the order of the day.

Sandra Bullock stars, kind of, as FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, an ambitious woman who’s sacrificed any sense of normalcy to get ahead in the department. Just how bad is her social life? Basically, she’s a cat lady without a cat, having to borrow her neighbor’s pet whenever she’s feeling blue. She’s shipped out to Boston to track down an elusive (is there any other kind?) drug lord, a mission she’s intent on completing as she’s looking to replace her immediate superior (a wasted Demian Bichir) who’s moving on. However, this task will be far from easy. She will have to work with officer Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), an abrasive, condescending and in all ways reprehensible person who I’m surprised hasn’t been the victim of a friendly fire incident within the department.

The two meet, they don’t get along, they bicker, they come to a mutual understanding, they ultimately respect one another, they catch the bad guy and they become bosom buddies. I would have issued a spoiler alert at the beginning of this paragraph but really you know where this film is headed from frame one. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with covering the same ground if it can be done with a bit of imagination and energy. For me, that was sorely lacking here. It seemed as though all concerned thought all they had to do was throw two appealing actresses in traditional male roles and that was all the innovation needed to ensure the success of the film. While Bullock and McCarthy are capable performers, they’re laboring with a bag of clichés tied round their necks in a movie that has serious issues where tone and mood are concerned. It is, at times, quite brutal, which jars with the pair’s “witty” hijinks.

To be sure, there are moments, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I laughed out loud twice. However, there’s an issue of balance here that hurts the film in the long run. Bullock earns some sort of award for being magnanimous here. More times than not, she steps aside and lets McCarthy dominate the screen. This winds up being a wise strategy. There’s no way she can match her co-star’s outsized personality and playing the straight woman ends up paying off for her in the long run. As for McCarthy, for me a little of her goes a long, long way. Her act, while initially funny gets old in a hurry. Her brazen, in-your-face approach works initially because it’s so shocking as well as intriguing because you just don’t know how far she’ll push things. Then, when you realize that she has no boundaries and opts for the most outlandish approach every time, her shtick becomes predictable and a bit of a bore. However, the joke seems to be on me as a sequel to this surprise hit has already been pushed into production, meaning I get to spend even more time with this charming and overly familiar duo far sooner than I’d like.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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