The Heat review: buddy crap

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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