MOVIE REVIEW: McCarthy can (mostly) take ‘The Heat’

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First Posted: 7/1/2013

When “Mike and Molly” premiered on CBS a few years back, who could have predicted the path Melissa McCarthy would eventually take? Trapped within the dreary confines of a Chuck Lorre sitcom, McCarthy didn’t look like a particularly promising comedic actress, but that was probably due to the fact that any potential she may have had was hidden behind an impenetrable wall of easy fat jokes and canned laughter.

But then, of course, “Bridesmaids” happened and everything quickly changed, so quickly that McCarthy has already reached the Will Ferrell stage of her career. And by that I mean she’s now the person lazy filmmakers call when they want to save an otherwise weak script but don’t want to bother with all of those time-consuming rewrites. Just cast McCarthy as some kind of crazy slob, push her in front of a camera, let her say whatever pops into her head and – BAM – you’ve got yourself a movie. More or less.

However, it’s a plan that doesn’t always work. If you want to save your weak comedy, you can’t just edit together footage of McCarthy punching people in the throat and call it a movie like the producers of “Identity Thief” did. No, you have to do what the producers of “The Heat” did. You have to nurture your McCarthy and trust that she can carry a movie just by calling Sandra Bullock “tattletits.”

And if that doesn’t work, you can always overstuff your film with enough comedic ringers that eventually somebody is going to laugh at something and forget about all of the things that don’t work.

Plot-wise, “The Heat” isn’t exactly groundbreaking or original. Bullock plays a fussy, by-the-book FBI agent that reluctantly teams up with McCarthy’s unhinged Boston detective in order to take down a drug ring. Essentially it’s just “Lethal Weapon” with vaginas or “The Odd Couple” with guns and vaginas. Actually, just think of any movie, attach a big ol’ vagina to it, and you’ve got “The Heat.” The film boasts one of the most overused premises in film history. In terms of story, “The Heat” is nothing special. What makes the film special is McCarthy.

Playing a scummier version of the already scummy character she played in “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy relentlessly barrels through “The Heat” growling out lines that are too good to be scripted (like, “Who closes the door to take a shit?” and “Ha, Ha, Ha! What is this, a comedy party? Get a room!”). She’s inherently loathsome but still oddly likable, even when she’s pulling a gun on people whenever she gets slightly annoyed. McCarthy’s funny, but the filmmakers were smart enough to surround her with equally funny supporting players like Chris Gethard as an apologetically sleazy club-goer and Kaitlin Olsen who, as a Bulgarian drug-dealer, provides the film with its second best line: “Now is bad. I’m making butter.”

Unfortunately, McCarthy and her co-stars can only carry the film so far. At nearly two hours, the film –like most comedies made today – seems to be suffering from a disorder that renders it overlong and meandering (let’s call it Apatow Simplex). Another problem is the fact that Bullock doesn’t quite fit into the subtly weird universe of this movie.

Although by no means a bad comedic actress, Bullock struggles to hold her own against McCarthy’s weird energy. It also doesn’t help that Bullock’s character is a sour scold or that her character is basically identical to the one she played in “Miss Congeniality.” But you know what? Who cares? Comedy by its very nature is inconsistent, and even though not every joke successfully lands in “The Heat,” it’s still funny enough. And in the end, isn’t that what really matters? (No. But that’s OK.)

Rating: W W W