“The Heat” probably recalls no movie quite so much as Richard Rush’s 1974 action comedy, “Freebie and the Bean.” The difference here, other than decade, is that the cops are played by Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. It doesn’t make as much of a difference as you might think. This is, for the most part, a low-brow, paint-by-numbers comedy that delivers adequate laughes on schedule, even if it doesn’t do much outside-the-box.
As cop comedies go, the movie plays more by the rules than its characters. On the other hand, how many cop movies have you seen where the cops DO play by the rules? Here, both main characters have workplace issues. Bullock’s FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn is the polar opposite of her character in “Miss Congeniality.” Uptight and arrogant, Sarah also alienates most of her colleagues, which is hampering her chances for promotion. She gets sent to Boston to nail a druglord, and promptly gets in the way of Boston PD Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), a loud, foul-mouthed juggernaut who terrifies her own co-workers.
No one will be surprised when the two mismatched cops are ordered to work together. This is standard odd couple stuff, which has always made for good comedy, and that seems to be a particular favorite in the cop movie genre. Remember “Lethal Weapon?” For that matter, Dirty Harry’s partners were always quieter and more conventional than he was.
Most of the comedy in “The Heat” is shtick stuff, but it’s amusing shtick stuff, and it’s hard not to laugh when McCarthy goes on one verbal tirades launched at whoever’s annoying her character at the moment. Some of the physical comedy is almost Three Stooges-level, but that works too. Director Paul Feig doesn’t get quite the belly laughs he induced in “Bridesmaids,” and the shock elements here never quite get to the food-poisoning-in-the-bridal-shop scene, but he does get laughs. Feig comes out of the Judd Apatow camp, and like Apatow, he sometimes lets scenes go on a little too long, though not as much so as Apatow himself.
Feig and “Parks and Recreation” screenwriter Katie Dippold are also intent on making a cop movie here, and the formula doesn’t work as well. There are few surprises along the way, though we might pause to notice Sarah’s decreasing committment to the Constitution the longer she works with Shannon. That might be intentional satire, although I doubt it. Richard Rush took a fair amount of heat for the tactics that James Caan and Alan Arkin used in “Freebie and the Bean.” By now they barely seem to warrant a comment.
The supporting cast, including Jane Curtin as Shannon’s angry mother and Michael Rappaport as the brother Shannon personally arrested for dealing drugs, Academy Award nominee Demián Bichir as Sarah’s exasperated boss and Marlon Wayans are all uniformly underused.
The movie leaves itself open for a sequel, which distributor 20th Century Fox has reportedly already ordered.