For as much I have generally railed against the work of Melissa McCarthy, and think that in between her television work in Mike & Molly and her more recent movie work in Identity Thief, I just do not get or understand the reason for her success, little more than everyone gets a laugh out of watching the big girl fall down. But she comes back to one of the causes of her success in The Heat, and I feel like some crow-eating may occur.
McCarthy reunites with her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, in a story written by Katie Dippold (MadTV). McCarthy plays Mullins, an abrasive Boston police officer. She shares the screen with Ashburn (Sandra Bullock, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), a federal agent who has come to Boston to work with Mullins to locate and shut down a drug operation. More importantly, Ashburn is using this opportunity as an opening to be a supervisor in her FBI office in New York, as her superior (Demian Bichir, Savages) is being promoted. Ashburn is more diplomatic and reasoned, Mullins is brash and vulgar. It is your typical cop film where two different types of law enforcement types come together for the sake of the investigation and hey, they even become friends in the process!
What first took me somewhat aback while watching The Heat was the approach of its stars. Bullock plays the straight man/person role nicely, and gets her own moments of comedy that result in some laughs. But the surprising part of the film for me is that McCarthy's physical acts were not as over the top compared to her previous work and thus I found myself laughing out loud more than I can recall in a Melissa McCarthy-starring project. Feig is a veteran of combining the story to be told with moments of improvisation among his stars that it was a joy to watch. Not hurting in the least was seeing a variety of supporting characters played by veteran comic performers that makes the journey all the easier. Ashburn leaves New York, goes to Boston to meet Mullins and her emasculated Captain, played by Thomas Wilson of Back to the Future lore, and he sets up just what type of personality Mullins is in town, making for her subsequent acts all the funnier. We meet Mullins' family, which includes her father (Michael Tucci, It's Garry Shandling's Show), brother (Bill Burr, Breaking Bad) and sister-in-law (Jessica Chaffin), among others. In just as small roles, familiar comedic television faces like Tony Hale (Veep) and Kaitlin Olson (It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia) lend their respective talents to four and five minute scenes in separate parts of the movie. Heck, MadTV veteran Michael McDonald appears as one of the film's protagonists! There is no lack of competent, adequate support to Bullock and/or McCarthy as the pair move things along.
The weak part of the film lies within the story. Sure, Feig likes to get the story points in and dredge them in the flour of comic improvisation and I get that. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a lot. But for a buddy cop comedy movie, 117 minutes felt like it from time to time in the second and third acts, with unnecessary plot twists and superfluous scenes that serve little use to the overall narrative. Stripped of some of the stuff, I'd assert that by trimming 15 minutes off the runtime that not only would the film be more enjoyable, but nothing is impacted from a performance standpoint in the process.
This does present itself to be a mild pressure point, but Feig wants to give anyone whom the viewer recognizes (and other ones they may not) a chance to shine in the scene(s) they have been given. Nevertheless, the stars of the show are given the best justice in The Heat, with Bullock's work being a nice mix of physical comedy and improve, and McCarthy not chewing the scenery up compared to other films, and trusting that the other members of the ensemble can not only handle themselves, but help rise the tide of the boat.
It cannot be stated enough from me that based on her work in The Heat that now I can see why people fuss over Melissa McCarthy. She is a funny lady, she simply does not have to do what she does in most things to get the laughs. Bullock is an understated yet pleasant surprise and the chemistry between the two clicks immediately and effectively. But in summation about The Heat, mea culpa Melly, mea frickin' culpa.
Fox trots out an AVC encode to The Heat, and the film (which appears in 2.40:1 widescreen) looks good. Detail in the facades of some of the Boston buildings is easily discernible, reds and greens among others in the palette look excellent and flesh tones are accurate without additional push. Black levels are inky and provide a nice contrast when necessary, and film grain can be spotted while watching the feature, which lacks any distractions of DNR in the image. The film looks damn nice on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track gets a lot to do, starting with the disc's main menu showing off low-end fidelity almost constantly. Once the movie gets going the low end is controlled and robust, and in the first scenes where Ashburn and Mullins are together in the club the music is pervasive but not overly so, dialogue is balanced. Channel panning and directional effects are early and often and the listening experience is convincing and immersive. Overall the film was a treat to listen to, and not just for the jokes.
Aside from the fact that it has both the earlier mentioned theatrical cut, there is also a two-hour on the nose ‘unrated cut' for it, the film has no less than FIVE commentary tracks, each with a varying degree of entertainment. McCarthy, Feig, Dippold, McDonald, Adam Ray (who appears in the film as LeSoire) and Jessie Henderson. The group admits to drinking red wine in coffee cups during the track and hope to start a drinking game for it, but McCarthy and Feig drive most of the content for the track as recall some of the cast that is not available for the commentary, with adequate production recollection and anecdotes. It meanders at times but is worth checking out. Feig appears on his own for a commentary on the unrated version that is more formal and also has more information in it, as he covers some of the production concerns, whether it is redressing a set or some more logistically focused concerns. He frequently talks about the action occurring onscreen, but it is a solid listen. Next up are the actors who play the Mullins family, specifically Tucci, Jane Curtin, Gina and Beth (Jamie Denbo). An in-character track, it tends to be loud and confrontational at times, much like the family. Feig comes back and tries to move the "family" forward, but the track is basically more of what they did in the movie, but with more silence. A track with the audience from the June 23, 2013 premiere is included, but is basically a crowd watching a movie, so don't expect to be wowed. Saving the best for last is a track with the original members of Mystery Science Theater 3000, as they talk about the movie in a way only they can, with jokes referencing The Blind Side, Damnation Alley and Taylor Negron, to name a few. At times the track feels forced, almost as if they did not want to do it, but I am not complaining at its inclusion at the least.
The rest of the supplements are enjoyable for the most part. We start with
"Welcome to the Bonus Features!" (:27), where Feig introduces us to what we'll see. He also introduces each bonus segment in a humorous manner. "Mullins Family Fun" (9:20) is a mix of alternate lines and bloopers from the actors in the Mullins family onset. "Acting Master Class" (8:28) shows the stars in the bar some more, doing extended faux drunk takes. "Let's Get Physical" (6:31) gives us some more alternate takes and bloopers, and "Police Brutality" (6:43) is similar in nature, but more McCarthy-centric. "Von Blooper Reel" (15:41) is the feature's gag reel, and it is a good one to boot. "Supporting Cast Cavalcade" (7:44) includes alternate lines and bloopers from Olson and Wilson among others, while "Over and Out" (:36) is Feig's signoff to the disc. But there's more! "All the Stuff we had to Take Out but Still Think Is Funny" is a section full of deleted scenes (11, 10:12), extended ones (12, 14:45) and alternate ones (4, 3:41) which have some chuckles therein. "How The Heat Was Made" (19:44) is just that, where we see things such as read throughs of the script, the ideas and intent for the location, and how the cast works with one another and with Feig. It is lighter than most EPKs and worth watching. The package also includes a standard definition disc and a code for streaming/downloading the film via the Ultraviolet and iTunes services.
A pleasant change of pace not only as far as cop movies go, but also for films that star Melissa McCarthy, The Heat has laughs from all involved. It is entertaining and worth overlooking some of the pains the story experiences. Technically, it is that and the proverbial bag of chips, and is loaded as far as extra material. Worth renting at least with an eye towards (gasp!) adding to your collection.