With the exception of the 1988 comedy “Feds” (and to a certain degree, the “Charlie’s Angels” films), the buddy cop movie has been an exclusively male-dominated genre. It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood finally gets its act together and delivers a great female-centric action comedy, but “The Heat” is not that film. Though fans of Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” will likely enjoy his latest R-rated romp with Melissa McCarthy, anyone that wasn’t already sick and tired of the actress definitely will be after sitting through two hours of her annoyingly boorish and over-the-top brand of humor. “Identity Thief” should have been the final nail in the coffin of America’s love affair with McCarthy, but if her irritating performance in “The Heat” doesn’t put an end to that reign, then the moviegoing public deserves more lowbrow comedies just like it.
Sandra Bullock stars as FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, an arrogant overachiever who’s up for a big promotion in her department. But while she’s the perfect candidate on paper, Sarah still hasn’t earned the respect of her peers, whom she frequently humiliates during busts. To prove that she’s a team player and the right person for the job, Sarah’s boss (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston, where she must partner up with local detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) to bring down a ruthless drug lord. Unfortunately, no one actually knows what the guy looks like, but Sarah has much bigger problems in the form of the uncouth Mullins, whose sloppy demeanor and unconventional methods clash with her straight-laced, by-the-books personality.
It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that they eventually learn to get along, but that’s because like most films in the buddy cop genre, there’s a pretty strict formula to follow, and “The Heat” doesn’t stray too far from those decade-old clichés. What separates the good movies from the bad ones are the characters, and neither Sarah nor Shannon is very likable. That’s rare for Bullock, who’s usually charming even when she shouldn’t be (i.e. “The Proposal“), but this variation of her “Miss Congeniality” character is incredibly dull, perhaps in order to make McCarthy’s counterpart appear more wild in comparison. Sadly, McCarthy is just doing the same tired act from “Bridesmaids” and “Identity Thief,” once again playing the slovenly outcast who doesn’t seem to have any consequences for her actions. In some respects, she’s even worse than the criminals she’s arresting, and yet we’re supposed to laugh with her in spite of that.
Vulgarity doesn’t automatically equal comedy, but McCarthy apparently didn’t receive the memo, because her performance is comprised entirely of crass, profanity-laced dialogue and the sort of unprofessional behavior that would get you fired several times over in the real world. McCarthy’s acting is so poor that she can’t even feign a Boston accent, despite the fact that every member of her stereotypical Irish family (including an underused Jane Curtain and Bill Burr, to name a few) has the same wicked awesome inflection. New York Observer film critic Rex Reed has been lambasted over the past few months for making some hurtful comments about McCarthy in his review of “Identity Thief,” and rightfully so, because attacking someone for their weight is not only a cheap blow, but really distasteful, especially when there are far more constructive things that he could have called her out on, like being an obnoxious, one-trick pony.
McCarthy is trying so hard to be funny that it feels forced most of the time, and as a result, Feig never looks like he’s in control. “Bridesmaids” may be overrated, but at least it has some genuine moments of laughter and a decent story at its core. “The Heat,” meanwhile, never merits more than a few chuckles, and a major reason for that is the overdependence on McCarthy’s loud-mouthed buffoon. It’s supposed to be hilarious, except that it’s not. You know what would have been funny? If Bullock and McCarthy had switched roles. At least then we could have seen both actresses do something a little different for once, and it probably would have led to a more entertaining movie. Instead, we got “Miss Congeniality 3: Boston Boogaloo.”