Melissa McCarthy vaulted into the top tier of comedic raunch in 2011's “Bridesmaids,” transforming her career after years in series television and showcasing her skill for stealing scenes and dominating the screen. For “The Heat,” she reteams with director Paul Feig for a buddy-cop movie tailored for her talents. She might be double-billed with Sandra Bullock, but McCarthy doesn't just steal “The Heat.” She owns it.
Written by Katie Dippold (“MADtv” and “Parks and Recreation”), “The Heat” has big DNA spirals of '80s action-cop movies floating around in its genetic makeup — the pairing of Bullock's by-the-books FBI agent Sarah Ashburn and McCarthy's boisterous Boston cop Shannon Mullins is straight out of “Lethal Weapon” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” When Ashburn, a socially awkward striver in the bureau, is sent to Boston to investigate a major drug operation, she must deal with Mullins, the lead detective on the case. Beyond their physical differences, Ashburn is prim to a fault and Mullins' speech consists of a constant exhalation of profanity.
Can they learn a lot from each other? Can they become a great team? The answers to these questions were practically carved into stone by Joel Silver and Jerry Bruckheimer in the 1980s.
Bullock is playing a variation on her “Miss Congeniality” character, but without the added constraint of a PG-13 rating — a freedom that works to good effect once Ashburn is paired with Mullins, whose disregard for rules and social graces makes Bluto Blutarsky of “Animal House” look positively Zen. They have good chemistry, the kind that puts off the distinctive whiff of sequels.
McCarthy goes for it in every scene, whether she is squaring off with her brothers (Michael Rapaport, Bill Burr, Joey McIntyre and Nathan Corddry) or slapping around her captain (Tom Wilson). In “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy was used in comparably small doses, but Feig lets the actress run wild in “The Heat.” In McCarthy's hands, Detective Mullins comes on like an unrelenting storm of comic rage.
And honestly, it's a little exhausting. “The Heat” is a genre exercise bordering on parody, so Feig paints in broad and occasionally sloppy strokes: some lines were apparently so good, they used them twice. It's not aiming for the emotional grace notes Feig and Kristen Wiig hit in “Bridesmaids” — the aim is much, much lower in “The Heat.” But the jokes still land.
— George Lang