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With Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport. Written by Katie Dippold. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence. 117 minutes.
If you want to see just how low American film comedy has fallen look no further than THE HEAT, which ranks among the year’s very worst. If it’s a hit, that will only encourage more of the same. We should be ashamed, appalled, and making amends.
This is a buddy cop movie in which straitlaced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) must team up with down-and-dirty Boston street cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to take down a drug lord. The alleged joke is that the gorgeous and super-competent Ashburn is lonely and gets no respect from her peers while the repulsive Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) chases away multiple sex partners and is supposed to be the best of the Boston PD. (NOTE: This is not a shot at McCarthy’s weight or looks. Her character is written to be so slovenly that she thinks turning a shirt she’s worn for days inside out constitutes a change of outfit.) After abusing and humiliating Ashburn for most of the film, the uptight agent realizes that she has much to learn from the cop, including how to ignore the law while supposedly enforcing it.
McCarthy is the female equivalent of Adam Sandler, and that’s not meant as a compliment. Her characterization consists of aggressive stupidity. She is self-absorbed and incapable of considering anyone who gets in her way, but as with her turn in “Identity Thief,” she is revealed to have a heart of gold which is supposed to redeem her. This is a movie where threatening violence against the genitals of another character is the point of three different scenes, including one in which Ashburn and Mullins are at the mercy of a man with an oyster shucking knife.
As for its depiction of Boston, we’re all a bunch of lowlife drunks and drug addicts. Apparently, “The Fighter” wasn’t about just one family. It was about the entire Commonwealth. Don’t look for hack director Paul Feig or TV writer Katie Dippold (making her feature scripting debut) to be hired by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism for their next campaign.
Besides the lowest common denominator of reputed humor and unending stream of vulgarity (Ashburn learning to swear is another charming plot point), the film is one of the most anti-feminist movies in a long time. How can that be? It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. (A movie passes the test when it has two named female characters who have at least one scene where they talk about something other than a man.) However, look at what the movie has to say about its two female leads. Ashburn is lonely, insecure and accused of being arrogant. Her character arc includes her realizing how deeply flawed she is. Mullins’s “success” comes by adopting the worst male movie cop stereotypes. One shudders that anyone–male or female–might see either of these pathetic caricatures as positive role models.
Why the talented, intelligent and attractive Bullock keeps choosing roles where she has to debase herself (“Miss Congeniality,” “All About Steve”) is perhaps something she needs to take up with her therapist. As for McCarthy, critic Rex Reed got in trouble making fun of her weight. He was wrong and unprofessional. Better he should have noted that in movies like this and “Identity Thief” and “Bridesmaids” she has shown herself to be utterly lacking in talent or wit, playing one-note characters.
Alas, there is already talk of a sequel to “The Heat.” Someone call in a 187–the Hollywood comedy has officially been murdered.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.