The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Heat

The Heat is a great example of how smart casting can elevate a good screenplay into something even better. With other actors, the movie could have been a perfectly serviceable buddy-cop comedy. The script by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation) is solid, with many cleverly constructed comic situations. The magic, however, comes from putting Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the lead roles. Together, they run with the material, adding the character nuance that makes The Heat funny from start to finish, and also the best buddy-cop comedy in many moons.

Bullock plays Ashburn, a prim-and-proper FBI Special Agent on the trail of a drug kingpin. Her search takes her to Boston where she runs afoul of a gruff, slovenly local cop named Mullins (McCarthy) who is more or less investigating the same case. Mullins resents Ashburn's intrusion upon her beat, and makes no bones about expressing that sentiment, often in the most foul-mouthed manner possible. It becomes clear, though, that in order to get close to the kingpin, they will have to work together – and find a way to make their clashing styles mesh.

The Heat has all the elements you'd expect from a buddy-cop comedy: mismatched partners, comic bickering, action scenes executed with a twinge of humor, and so on. The feminine perspective makes these familiar elements feel fresh. The characters deal with things Lethal Weapon's Murtaugh and Riggs never would have had to worry about. For instance, in one scene, Mullins tries to “sex up” Ashburn so she can get close to a suspect, only to discover that her partner is wearing Spanx. Other films in the comedy/action genre have starred women, but many of them faltered by making the characters clearly out of their element. The characters in The Heat may deal with certain gender issues, but both are very, very good at their jobs, in ways that are specific to their personalities.

Bullock and McCarthy are therefore free to run wild with the material. The former plays up Ashburn's fussiness, while the latter counters it with Mullins' unapologetic brashness. It's not just that the two clash that's humorous, it's the way they clash. The actresses have amazing chemistry together. They're so comedically in sync that iffy jokes become funny, and funny jokes become hilarious. The longer The Heat goes on, the more hysterical it gets, because that chemistry deepens as the characters get involved in increasingly dangerous situations.

On a related note, thank goodness for Melissa McCarthy! It's so nice to see a woman become a top movie comedy star, especially one who doesn't fit traditional definitions of “hotness,” like Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, or even Sandra Bullock. McCarthy has an extraordinary gift for character development, in addition to crack timing. She deserves every ounce of success that's come her way, and I suspect this movie will continue to catapult her to the top ranks of big screen comedy.

Directed with flair and a tight pace by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), The Heat is non-stop fun. It doesn't necessarily rewrite the formula of the buddy-cop comedy, but it absolutely executes it with freshness and wit.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Heat is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

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