'The Heat' review: A slow comedy without sizzle

RedEye's Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins discuss Channing Tatum's ridiculous action movie and the Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy buddy cop comedy.

** (out of four)

A by-the-book FBI agent. An all-over-the-place cop. Imagine the sparks that will fly if they become partners!

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. You’ve seen this dynamic in practically every buddy cop movie ever, just not with women as the buddies. The parts land square in the comfort zones for Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, who annoy each other and me in “The Heat,” which should have considered inverting the roles and allowing the actresses to play against type a la Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in “21 Jump Street.”

Good comedy often comes from surprise and creativity, but “The Heat” tries to get by without them. Jokes about the Rosetta Stone and Spanx? Making fun of an Albino for being pale? First-time screenwriter Katie Dippold (“Parks and Recreation”) can do better than that.

With a trajectory like “The Other Guys” minus the huge laughs,” “The Heat” progresses as rigid Special Agent Ashburn (Bullock) and profane detective Mullins (McCarthy) pick away at the identity of a Boston drug lord. The setting allows for time with Mullins’ very Bahston family (including Joey McIntyre!) and Ashburn, a New Yorker, thinking that one of Mullins’ brothers is saying “knock” when he’s saying “narc.” Dippold and director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) may as well have just copied and pasted the superior stuff from “The Fighter,” which was funnier and had a lot more local personality.

In the opening scene of “The Heat,” whose few laughs aren’t that big, a character confuses prohibition for prostitution, a joke I liked better when someone mixed up “Caucasian” and “persuasion” in “How to Be a Player.” (Bet you didn’t expect me to reference that movie ever.) There’s also Mullins, a character I wish wasn’t drawn as being so sloppy, climbing through a car window, and Ashburn awkwardly dancing to try to get close to one of their targets in a club. None of the other agents like Ashburn, though one colleague (a miscast Marlon Wayans) does simply because of her looks. These scenes arrive like they’ve taken extra-drowsy medication, and you’re more likely to wait for the movie to end than enjoy hanging out in its predictability.

Outside the success of McCarthy’s mediocre “Identity Thief,” I’m not sure why “The Heat” moved from April to late June. It doesn’t scream summer hit so much as, “I didn’t see this when it was in theaters, and now I’m on an overseas flight, so whatever.” Character-based stuff like the lonely Ashburn cuddling with her neighbor’s cat, and Mullins’ gun playing Russian roulette with a perp’s crotch, made me laugh. Otherwise, it’s just another chance to hear the Hives’ “Tick Tick Boom” during a chase sequence and main characters bonding over a night of drunken chatting and dancing. That’s working for formula, not making formula work for you.
 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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