‘The Heat’ blazes into summer blockbuster territory

The summer is a great time for movies. Fall and winter consist of big budget make it or break it epics gleaned especially for Oscar voters whose teaser trailers have been circulating the internet for what seems like decades. The post-awards months are full of the ideas from the past year that didn’t make the cut because the subject matter might have otherwise hurt the film’s or actor’s chances at glory and thus, tend to come out half-baked.

But for one long season in between, audiences get something different. Summer movies aren’t competing against each other for Hollywood recognition nor are they made up of ideas pulled from the vault to bring in money at a time when fulfilling contract obligations trumps the entertaining factor of film. Summer movies are intense actions, hilarious comedies, and breath-taking thrillers that all aim to win over an audience’s favor and be christened with a singular word: blockbuster.

image003To be honored as a blockbuster is not a sure thing. Production companies can’t just depend on popular trends or certain actors to translate well with viewers. This past weekend was witness to the lackluster and otherwise underwhelming return of a much-loved superhero and the unexpected box office triumph of furry frat house creatures over a zombie hunting, family loving leading man.

But here’s something you can count on: The Heat is coming and rarely before have we been treated to a movie that pairs top-tier acting and whip smart dialogue with a comedy made for comedy’s sake.

The Katie Dippold (Parks & Recreation) penned story stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as two cops with completely different personalities and approaches to getting the job done. Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is an uptight FBI Special agent with proven methods that win her success but subsequently alienate her from co-workers. Detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) is a Boston cop who has a passion for protecting her community but at extremes that might only be described as unorthodox.

Although the obvious choice for a promotion, Ashburn learns she’s not a favorite at work and her inability to work as a team player is what’s keeping her from a career upgrade. She’s sent to Boston to team with Mullins to intercept a drug deal and take down the drug lord in charge of it all.  If she passes the test, she gets the promotion.  Of course, Mullins isn’t aware of the plan and neither cop seems to take a liking to the other.

If this all seems familiar, that’s because it is. The buddy cop comedy isn’t a new idea for Hollywood at all. It’s been done well, it’s been done poorly but rarely has it been done with two women in the lead roles. Call it what you will, but for whatever reason, Hollywood has put a lot more time and effort into portraying male camaraderie on screen rather than female bonding.

Who better to tackle such a film than Paul Feig, the director of 2011’s Bridesmaids, which was praised for its almost exclusively female cast and comedic, foul-mouthed antics. By applying a gender role reversal to a used plot, Dippold opens a whole new can of worms for Feig to work with.

Mullins (McCarthy) gets an impromptu lesson on Spanx (courtesy of Twentieth Century

Exhibit A might be Mullins’ impromptu introduction to Spanx, which occurs while she and Ashburn attempt to go undercover at a nightclub.  Despite being short in length, it’s one of the most finely tuned scenes in the movie, combining lightning-fast dialogue, deadpan timing, and uninhibited acting and facial expressions by both actresses.

And that’s pretty much the pacing of the film throughout it’s nearly two hour length. We first meet our main characters  in extended sequences of their daily routines; the first showcasing the disconnect between Ashburn’s perceived and real authority in conducting a raid and the second a fast paced, high jinx fueled look at Mullins’ patrol of the streets of Boston.

So often comedies fail because they try to tell a complete story while making every line a punch line and every act a joke. The effect is that the entire movie starts to lose substance because the characters seem to only exist to move the plot along and the audience is left without any connection to the situations being portrayed.

What makes The Heat different is that, while it’s chock full of laughs, it also puts tremendous effort into characterization.  It’s not a rehashed comedy either because the audience is transfixed on these two central characters, the humor they bring to each scene, and their development throughout the film, rather than the actual sequence of events.

This could not have been achieved without casting stellar leads, whose characters are essentially caricatures of themselves.  Both in film and reality, McCarthy has a loud personality and is known for her quick wit. She doesn’t change her appearance for movies and changing her ways is not something Mullins would do, either.

Bullock, McCarthy, and Feig at the New York premiere of The Heat (publicity photo)

Likewise, while Ashburn is a bit uptight, she goes about her work with the same conservative poise that Bullock has shown while addressing the public. A majority of the Actress’s characters have been more on the dramatic side but both she and Ashburn are able to cross that line into sheer comedy and let loose.

After a heavy and hilarious night of drinking, the plot thickens as the two become fully wrapped up in the case.  But stay tuned because the laughs are not over.

With a strong supporting cast to go along with it, The Heat is one of the most well-rounded comedies to come out of Hollywood in recent years.  Despite minor pitfalls, it serves as one giant step towards reshaping a genre that’s been long overdue for a makeover. If there’s an early summer blockbuster out there, this is it.