Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Heat

There's a formula to the buddy cop action comedy; the rules of the trade of which cannot be altered.  They are market-tested and machine-proofed and focused grouped to the hilt to which should not and will not ever be forsaken.  By design, one of these cops (usually male) must be a Type-A, controlling sort, one with a mastery of principles, but maladroit at interpersonal contact, who displays a fussiness and overbearing arrogance which presents him as difficult to work with others.  The other of these cops (again usually male), as formula dictates, must exhibit a brazen and unrefined technique at their craft, highlighted by a to-the-wind disregard of the rules and a devil may care work ethic, typically augmented by a disregard to ones personal appearance, all of which makes him, as well, difficult to work with others.  The structure and discipline of the buddy cop action comedy formula dictates that such opposing characters must work together to solve some convoluted caper, only to find themselves, with their diametrically opposed personalities, as not just grand colleagues, but great friends in the final reel.

The formula isn't turned on its head, nor re-invented in the slightest in The Heat, but it's one formidable transgression makes the film ever more watchable than nearly all the Lethal Weapons, Rush Hours and Bad Boyses combined.  For the first time, the cinemas have graced two women in the decades-perfected roles of the buddy cop action comedy formula, and through the graces of the lithe estrogen-enhanced reshuffling and recharging of the bombastic sub-genre, a little dignity is restored, for The Heat, sort of like what a R-rated, George Cukor-directed version of Lethal Weapon might look like, is at long last the female action comedy that men have taken for granted for such a long time.

The Heat stars Sandra Bullock, in a variant of her Miss Congeniality tomboy role in relaxed slacks, and Melissa McCarthy, in a variant of her Bridesmaids filter-free troublemaker savant persona, as uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn and foul-mouthed Boston police detective Shannon Mullins.  The two have almost no reason to co-exist in the same plot whatsoever, as evident by the opening strands which introduce their individual stakes as well as their differing ideas of police work, yet both are differentiated by their laurels as well as their lone ranger work aesthetics.  When a big drug case bring Ashburn into Mullins' own backyard, the two nearly have no choice but to find a way to work with each other.  The gleeful refrain is, but of course, they don't even try to hide the fact that they are equally contemptuous of the other.

The slight kick of The Heat, which was directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and written by Katie Dippold (Parks & Recreation) is in the mirth-filled competitive antics displayed by Ashburn and Mullins.  Both have the stubborn, arrogant need to be right and first and positively alpha.  In sequences where they battle each other to be the first one to interrogate a perp or be in singular control of anything, it recalls the wedding toast war sequence in Bridesmaids-- a battle for superiority and lone plaudits.  In a way, The Heat, in it's obscene, over-the-top way makes a case that this kind of behavior, tried and try to the very nature of the formula of the buddy cop action comedy, works better with two women at the helm because neither Ashburn nor Mullins hold back their direct antagonizing of one another, but fester further layers of indirect burns and scars which make the battle singe just a bit more ruthlessly.  Strangely, the third act vows of eternal sisterly love reads even less saccharine than most of their dudes variations.

There's also a nod, a smutty one, to the formula that's nearly shrouded in compassion as well, especially in the twist that brings Mullins' family into the crime story, a chamber piece in its own right of thick Baw-ston accents gone mad that plays a bit like the naughty companion piece to David O. Russell's The Fighter.  Fortunately Feig and team only lightly soak the film with this novelty act, and it features a small, but foul-mouthed turn by Jane Curtain as McCarthy's mom, a gentle nod one generations feminine comedy star emblematically passing on the torch.

If there's a negative to The Heat, it's nearly may be in the fact with such gifted comediennes as Bullock and McCarthy at the helm, it is really just another formula buddy cop action comedy with the same cruddy template as all the rest.  The actresses, and the breezy chemistry between the two of them, deserve something a bit more special than the superficial charms that this nervous, too-easy-to-please comedy can afford.  For once the rules of the plot, which as dictated by the formula for some reason must exist, there's a slow and steady connect-the-dots pacing to the overlong Heat, that's only mildly interrupted from time to time by some weirdly stretched together bits of aggressive comedy--for instance, for no rhyme or reason, other than perhaps to milk its restrictive rating, Ashburn performs a very bloody (and unnecessary by more than one count) tracheotomy in a Dennys.  More so on point on the film, it becomes more convoluted and derivative once dueling ladies fully become the team the were meant to be.

I certainly hope The Heat doesn't rifle feathers in the same ridiculous fashion that Bridesmaids did two years back on the stupid notion of women behaving as bawdy, badly and with such raucous un-refinement of their male counterparts.  Not nearly because the argument at its base is illogically from all front, but because it should have already been knocked down in Hollywood about the same time Claudette Colbert kicked up her nippers whilst hitch-hiking in It Happened One Night all the way back in the thirties.  Bullock and McCarthy are sure things and The Heat is pleasurable and pain free in the same vain as many other popcorn flicks.  Now, let's just give these actresses and all their abundantly talented peers something real to work with.  B- 

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