The Heat, directed by Paul Feig and written by Katie Dippold, is this summer's sometimes charming but mostly wildly uneven go at a half-baked premise. It's as if some Hollywood execs got together and said, "Instead of using dudes, let's put a couple of gifted comediennes into a sloppily written, incoherent buddy cop picture and see what happens."
First we meet Ashburn, an uptight but gifted FBI agent played by Sandra Bullock. She solves every case and makes the drug-sniffing dogs look like losers, but since her personality is so awful none of the other detectives like her and thus she's having a hard time getting promoted.
Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy plays Mullins, a no-nonsense street cop who's either always undercover or just goes to work in a dirty denim vest every day. It's unclear because in this world of law enforcement there's no real protocol, paperwork or chain of command to bother with. Like Ashburn, we're meant to believe that Mullins is a good cop, but the other cops in her precinct don't like her because she can't stop telling everyone creative and horrifying ways that they can go eff-themselves. She does this incessantly and without joy, which is funny sometimes, but after a while starts to make you feel sad.
The movie makes a big point of letting us know how unlikeable these women are, and then we're asked to root for them anyway when they're thrown together and casually tasked with taking down Boston's No. 1 drug lord. The plot doesn't matter and is surprisingly hard to keep straight, because more than anything the movie exists as a series of setups for Bullock and McCarthy to do comedy.
The Heat has gotten a lukewarm reception by critics so far, probably due to the genuine charisma between McCarthy and Bullock. The two work well together as actors and occasionally say and do funny things, but any point they were trying to make about strong women and feminism is swiftly undercut by their characters' stupidity. We're told repeatedly that these women are terrific at their jobs, but pretty much every one of their actions suggests otherwise. For one sting, they make sexy undercover outfits in the bathroom of a nightclub by ripping their clothes up, but there's no time crunch. Why not just plan ahead a little? Later, the action stalls for an evening so they can get drunk at a dive bar and get to know each other, and it's sweet; the movie has a thing or two to say about women in positions of power and how hard it is to make strong female friends. But Christ, ladies. There's a killer drug lord on the loose and we've just watched you drink enough shots to kill an elephant. They should take their work more seriously!
Besides all that—and maybe a comedy isn't the right genre to quibble about this—The Heat is badly edited. It lacks style and cohesion and has no sense of emotional stability. Even when McCarthy's brother winds up in a coma in the hospital based on Bullock's foolhardy actions, there's no real urgency or appropriate reverence for death. Weirdly enough, by the end, this flip feeling for consequences starts to look like the film's greatest strength. These women shoot people. Innocent men get blown up. There's a surprising amount of blood. If they had controlled the mood better, The Heat could have been a stellar dark comedy.
The Heat continues at the Carmike 12, Village 6, Pharoahplex and Showboat.