The Heat review: buddy crap

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The Heat red light Sandra Bullock Melissa McCarthy

Meanspirited where it’s meant to be funny. Misogynist crap is still misogynist crap when it stars women.
I’m “biast” (pro): love McCarthy, like Bullock

I’m “biast” (con): hated the trailer

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

She’s a cop, she’s a cop — they’re cops!

It’s funny, see, because The Heat is a buddy-cop movie and the mismatched, odd-couple pair who start out hating each other and end up besties are women.

Except it’s not funny.

I find it hard to believe a woman is responsible the script for The Heat. Not that women are automatically feminist or anything, but is it really so hard to not hate your own characters and treat them like dirt simply because they’re women? Katie Dippold is a writer on the brilliant TV series Parks and Recreation, which ably demonstrates that fictional female characters can be odd and difficult and sometimes unpleasant and always hilarious — in other words, good comedic characters — without anyone needing to drag anything sexist into it. P&R’s Leslie Knope is funny because she’s so relentlessly single-minded and ambitious a person. She’s not funny merely because she’s a woman.

Yet that’s exactly the route that Dippold takes with Sandra Bullock’s FBI special agent Ashburn here: she’s seriously Sherlockian in her deductions — deductions that are invariably correct — and she is treated like a pariah by her FBI colleagues because of it. Of course in the real world, women often do have to work twice as hard for half the recognition as men, and women often are dismissed by male coworkers if there’s a perception that a woman might show them up… but simply portraying this frustrating reality is not funny. There’s nothing comic in it. Except to Dippold and director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids). If those dismissive male FBI agents got some sort of comeuppance for their piggish behavior, that could have been funny. If they were forced to confront their sexist attitudes in a comedic way, that might have worked. But no. The punchline to the setup for Bullock’s (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Blind Side) character? A man sarcastically mutters, “Hard to believe she’s single”… and he is not the butt of any joke. Not at all: the movie agrees with his assessment. Ashburn is “weird” for being good at her job, and hence we should all laugh at her for being so weirdly competent that no man would want her. (How does that even track as a joke, unless you think competent women are unsexy?) Oh, and later she is called a “boner killer,” and she is even queried as to whether she is male or female, and the joke is never on those who treat Ashburn like this but on Ashburn herself. Because that’s hilarious.

Melissa McCarthy’s Boston cop Mullins comes off slightly better. She’s a mildly amusing parody of the “crazy cop” we’ve seen a hundred times before, mostly portrayed by Mel Gibson, but she’s mildly amusing only because McCarthy (The Hangover Part III, Identity Thief) is so manically energetic. Bonus points for Mullins being a dude magnet who is constantly having to let down guys who’ve fallen in love with her after some fun sex, but all those points get taken back off again when even for a badass chick like Mullins, “girl” is an insult to be hurled at a man. Imagine the opportunities for humor in a comedy that actually did turn gender stereotypes upside-down instead of shoehorning women into the very boring sexist clichés we’ve seen more than enough of already. Imagine a female-buddy-cop script clever enough to make it a compliment when someone calls a guy a girl!

It shouldn’t feel like a novelty that women are starring in a traditionally male genre, but that’s what we end up with here. And that’s not a pleasant place to be for anyone who wants to see more movies starring women in meaty leading roles.

Ashburn and Mullins must team up with on a crime investigation so rote it’s barely worth mentioning at all. The laziness of it as a framework to hang would-be humorous banter between the two cops — it plays more like childish squabbling than anything approaching what you’d expect from the buddy-cop comedy genre — is pretty outrageous in places. One scene that’s intended to be a comedic centerpiece involves the women in the restroom of a nightclub, where they’re spying on a bad guy, trying to tart up the “mannish” Ashburn so she fits in with the vibe. (This might have been where the “boner killer” crack came in.) Bad enough that Ashburn is perfectly reasonably dressed for a federal agent. Worse is that they didn’t pop into the nightclub on the spur of the moment: they planned to go there and could have dressed appropriately. But then we wouldn’t have “enjoyed” the opportunity to watch Mullins rip off Ashburn’s clothes and make fun of her underwear.

Remember: The Heat is a film that’s supposed to be “good” for women, supposed to be a corrective in a male-dominated genre. But it’s meanspirited where it’s meant to be funny, and it’s got nothing beyond that. Misogynist crap is still misogynist crap when it stars women.

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Mon, Aug 05, 2013 8:51pm

I wish I could find out what the thinking was behind this film. Was there a clever idea in there originally, squashed by committees and test screenings? Or was it really just “hey, we’ll make the generic macho heroes women, that’ll be funny”?


Speaking as a man who’s found competent women sexy since he found anything at all sexy — hey, I grew up with repeats of the Emma Peel Avengers — this kind of thing is basically alien to me.

Tue, Aug 06, 2013 4:35am

Thank goodness. I think this is easily one of the most repulsive movies of the summer and have been yelled at by another (female) critic and by a (female) college student about how funny and empowering it is. They might have been on drugs.

I think you are far too kind to the noxious and overrated McCarthy whose character is basically Adam Sandler in drag: aggressively stupid and selfish with a “revelation” shoehorned late in the story to make her “sympathetic.” The notion that SHE’S the one that Bullock’s character ought to be learning from is beyond absurd. As for how Bullock’s character is depicted, we are 100% in agreement.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  dkimmel
Tue, Aug 06, 2013 7:18am

Empowering? Seriously? Dear god…

Tue, Aug 06, 2013 3:52pm

I think you have looked into it too far, the men don’t hate Ashburn because she’s a woman it’s because she’s a smug cow..

reply to  ~~~~~J~~~~~
Tue, Aug 06, 2013 5:00pm

*sigh* and so the first one pops up with the requisite “you take this too seriously” and “it’s only a movie” in whatever form they have chosen.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  ~~~~~J~~~~~
Tue, Aug 06, 2013 5:24pm

“Smug cow”? Please discuss. Also: compare and contrast with other competent fictional detectives (male).

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Aug 08, 2013 3:59pm

Jeez… we really just need to disable guest posting in the comments. Disqus accounts are free and take like 2 seconds to set up. The anonymity annoys the shit out of me!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  KingNewbs
Tue, Aug 13, 2013 8:12am

Yeah, I’ve just disabled guest comments.

Daniel Minardi
Daniel Minardi
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Aug 08, 2013 10:13pm

Did you ignore her attitude entirely? Is rubbing your big success (you know, the one that she ended up being wrong about) in everyone’s face merely “competence”?

reply to  Daniel Minardi
Mon, Aug 12, 2013 6:17am

Wow. The lead characters in Sherlock, Elementary, House, etc., all have attitudes, and the audience is supposed to find them fascinating, clever, and even sexy in their arrogant self-assurance. I always get the feeling that society demands that women behave in a very self-depreciating manner when they’re successful and smarter than everyone else. If they don’t, they get called a variety of words that begin in “c”. (See above for one of them.)

Daniel Minardi
Daniel Minardi
reply to  teenygozer
Wed, Aug 21, 2013 4:26am

So, did you miss the part where her big success was based on a bad conviction? Or where she boldly and stupidly risked the life of her partner’s brother for her own aggressive self-promotion?

Being cocky about finding a few baga of dope while you’re mishandling murder and major trafficking cases isn’t an endearing character trait.

And you think no one ever made justifiable negative remarks about eccentric and difficult male detectives who are smug assholes?

Mon, Nov 25, 2013 8:14pm

Good review. This makes me understand more why I tried to watch this movie and abandoned it after 10 minutes.

Sun, Dec 22, 2013 5:47am

I am a feminist, and I actually found the movie hilarious. I watched Anchorman 1 last night in prep for 2, which I originally found misogynistic and troubling, and decided to give it one more try. In comparison, this one was much funnier (for me) and i LOLed much more! I guess sometimes its OK to watch movies and laugh instead of analyzing them for a broader impact. I’ve read other reviews that have a different take and that feel they did address the sexism. I found a lot to learn from her braggy, arrogant personality as a cautionary tale and see how that can be off-putting, as portrayed, to any sex. This particular story wasn’t about a lack of female empowerment or how she couldn’t kick ass, rather she kicked ass but was alone because of her issues. I think its very relatable.

Det Sgt Bargearse
Det Sgt Bargearse
Fri, Feb 14, 2014 6:02pm

its just a silly comedy for petes sake. Why do you have to take it so seriously? Men have been looking like idiots, made fun or treated badly in movies since the dawn of cinema. Reminds me of the reaction to True Lies…..jeez some critics certainly go into a movie with an agenda

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Det Sgt Bargearse
Fri, Feb 14, 2014 8:18pm

Yes, movies (and TV) frequently make men look like idiots. Which I have railed against many times.

Please do tell me about my reaction to *True Lies*…

Paul Bronfman
Paul Bronfman
Fri, Apr 11, 2014 12:35am

your points are all true, but my g/f loved this movie and llol her azzz off