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Non-Review Review: The Heat

At one point in The Heat, Officer Mullins offers her new partner a sandwich. It’s been there all week, but it’s okay. “It’s cheese,” Mullins asserts. “It never goes off.” In a single line, Mullins accounts for the strange charm of The Heat, a film that isn’t consistently hilarious or shockingly innovative, but manages to pack a reasonable number of laughs into an admittedly overlong runtime. The Heat feels like a nostalgic trip back to the era of the buddy comedy.

The soundtrack is saturated with hits of the early nineties – at one point Mullins and Ashburn dance to Groove is in the Heart, while at another the duo bust a party boat (the “U.S.S. Tanked”) as it plays We Like to Party (The Vengabus). The Heat is pretty much the most stereotypical police buddy comedy you could imagine, with only the novelty of being headlined by two well-respect female comedians to distinguish it.

That’s not a bad thing. There are worse comedic combinations than Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The problem is that The Heat never challenges the duo. There’s a sense the pair could have made the film in their sleep.

Never mind the Bullock...

Never mind the Bullock…

There is a charm to watching the duo play off one another. Bullock is a fine actress with underrated comic timing, while McCarthy seems to be willing to go to any length for a gag. The bulk of the fun of The Heat is in watching the pair interact. The Heat is very much the standard buddy cop comedy, in which a straight-laced agent is paired with a loose cannon who plays be their own rules. Go on, try to guess which actress plays each role.

Neither performer is especially challenged by the material. Bullock is playing the sort of uptight control-freak she established in the mid-nineties, and she slips into it like a glove. McCarthy’s renegade law enforcement officer is cut from the same clothe as her roles in Bridesmaids and Identity Thief. She’s crazy, aggressive and just a little lonely and pathetic. The Heat is pretty much exactly what audiences will expect from the poster, which promises an odd couple comedy playing off the recognisable screen personas of its two stars.

Hang on in there...

Hang on in there…

To a certain extent, this works. McCarthy and Bullock are good at what they do. Even if neither of them is venturing too far from their comfort zone, it’s hard to imagine any other duo that could pull off this premise with as much charm. At the same time, it lends the characters and their arcs an air of predictability. There are really very few surprises to be had watching The Heat. It offers exactly what it promises – for better or for worse.

The central gimmick of The Heat is that it represents a gender-swap of the traditional buddy cop film. In that respect, it feels like a companion piece to director Paul Feig’s breakout hit Bridesmaids. However, Bridesmaids had a certain amount of novelty to it, demonstrating that the “Judd Atapow comedy” was gender-blind, and that it was possible to construct a convincing comedy about lost thirty-something women who never quite grew up.

Those moves look familair...

Those moves look familiar…

Given that the term “manchild” is thrown around so casually, Bridesmaids was a splash of cold water – a reminder that the existential ennui featured in Atapow’s comedies are not exclusive to men. The Heat doesn’t have quite that level of novelty to it. It’s nice to see two female actors given the opportunity to play off one another. It’s nice to see them treated both as strong comedic presences and worthy action heroes in their own right.

It is, in principle, great to see an action comedy that is confident enough to rely exclusively on the charm of two leading actresses to carry the movie. Still, despite that hook, it all feels a bit bland. Although female action heroes are still far too rare, audiences are at least familiar with the concept. The Heat might be the first buddy comedy centring on two female characters, but it doesn’t feel as radical a shift or as big a game change as Bridesmaids did.

She hasn't got a legging to stand on...

She hasn’t got a legging to stand on…

However, the biggest problem with The Heat is that it feels somewhat over-extended. It packs some nice gags into its runtime, and McCarthy and Bullock play off one another relatively well.  However, running to almost two hours, the film feels too long. Minutes pass without a decent gag. The film isn’t consistently funny, and it’s during the occasional laughter-free section that the standard-issue plot devices and the familiar buddy comedy structure begin to grate.

There’s an argument to be made that the familiarity is comforting. There is something very appealing about the buddy comedy set-up, as comedy scenarios go. It allows two performers to work their magic, and offers a very clear narrative and plot arc. It’s very hard to mess up the buddy comedy. The Heat doesn’t excel, and part of its charm is allowing Bullock and McCarthy room to work. On the other hand, it’s somewhat frustrating when the more genre-savvy members of the audience can figure out a bomb is about to explode thirty seconds before the characters.

It hardly blew me away...

It hardly blew me away…

You could probably trim a half-an-hour from The Heat and you’d end up with a much leaner and meaner piece of film. The jokes would come a bit quicker, and there’d be less to time to marvel at how generic absolutely everything about the film feels. Comedies have suffered from the trend towards longer films, with studios feeling the need to pad out and extend funny films in a way that ruins the joke. Comedy is about the timing, and dragging a joke out too long can be fatal.

The Heat isn’t a bad film. It’s just a very average one. The two leads have a delightful chemistry, but everything else in the film feels like it was constructed using the spare parts from every other buddy cop comedy ever made. It does feel like an homage to classic buddy cop comedies, but it’s a bloated and over-extended one. It is funny and witty, but it’s also too long and too generic for its own good.

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