Minireview: “The Heat”

Directed by Paul Feig (who is mostly known for the surprisingly successful “Bridesmaids”), “The Heat” has taken me by complete surprise and brought a serious onslaught of hilarity into the summer blockbuster line-up. Admittedly, my expectations towards this particular comedy were kept relatively low, especially after the utterly underwhelming “The Internship”, which succeeded in destroying my comedy palate. Thankfully, “The Heat” strikes all the right notes and, while not entirely original, brings all the ingredients together to create a very refreshing summertime dish that’s light on the stomach, but zingy on the senses.

(I should probably grab a sandwich or something, because I can’t stop thinking in cooking analogies)

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In terms of the story, “The Heat” is a feminine variation on the buddy cop comedy where a young and arrogant FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is paired up with an obnoxious police officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), as they turn Boston upside down trying to find the identity of a mysterious new drug kingpin Larkin. In the process, however, they both have to come to terms with their own shortcomings and learn to co-exist. Moreover, their unlikely partnership quickly develops a peculiar dynamic that not only drives the whole film forward, but also serves as a vital plot device that pretty much carries the entire story.

I find it ironic that shortly after I had to sit through “The Internship” and nearly choked on the awkward and nearly forced performance by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, I was quickly reminded of how that kind of comedy can be done right. Sure, the idea of pairing exact opposites together is nothing new in here, but when it’s done with confidence and flair, with only a speck of originality, the end result has the potential to fly.

 

While I normally wouldn’t associate Sandra Bullock with an all-out comedy and frankly I didn’t expect she had it in her, she did a wonderful job in creating a funny character (although very conveniently layered, so as to keep the pacing going) that knew her place in the picture. Granted, I think everybody would expect Melissa McCarthy to take the lead in any comedy she’s in, because she clearly is gifted that way. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that most of her best gags were at least partially improvised. She does know she’s the star here and all eyes are on her at all times. What I think makes “The Heat” work so well, is the combination of McCarthy’s filthy humor and lack of any moral brakes with Bullock’s perfectly professional supportive role where she would let McCarthy do her thing all the while providing the fillers and backup vocals here and there to make the film work as a whole.

“The Heat” does not reinvent the genre in any capacity, but stands firmly on its own within it. It’s not just a two-man show with little around it, but rather a very balanced work including a set of very memorable secondary characters (hilarious in their own right) that makes a banal buddy cop story funny once more.

 

“Identity Thief” – A comedy that forgot how to comedy…

How did I end up watching “Identity Thief”? I’m not sure I know exactly how that happened, but it sure resembled something of a compromise. I had been planning for a couple of days already to devote last week’s Sunday Morning Cinema Excursion (which was promptly renamed as Bank Holiday Monday Cinema Excursion) either to “Oz – The Great and Powerful” or “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”. And I have to say I had been leaning towards the latter due to my unresolved childhood attachment to Jim Carrey. Since My Lovely Wife expressed her desire to join me this week, the final decision ended up being more of a collaborative effort with me caving in a little bit. She didn’t quite fancy neither the Sam Raimi’s “Oz…” (I myself wasn’t exactly excited about that one either) nor Jim Carrey’s and Steve Carrell’s comedy, so in order to reach the verdict, we both agreed to like Jason (almost typed ‘Patrick’ there, sheesh) Bateman  and Melissa McCarthy enough to give them a chance to entertain us in “Identity Thief”. I know it didn’t quite garner the best reviews out there, but you only live once, right?

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Now, the story is dead simple: A guy called Sandy (Jason Bateman) is your usual every-man you’d find in a big corporation – an underpaid, silently disgruntled middle-aged desk jockey that hates his job but needs it to provide for his growing family, who becomes a victim of identity theft. I guess he didn’t get the memo that you should never ever ever ever disclose any personal data over the phone. As a result, the thief (Melissa McCarthy) takes a bit of an advantage of Sandy’s female-sounding name (It’s unisex!) and drives his credit account into a morbid debt by binge-shopping and drinking herself into a stupor in night clubs. As a result – as you’d probably imagine – Sandy’s life turns into a nightmare and the only way he could bring it back to normal is to go all the way to Florida and find the perpetrator. I don’t fully understand the logical leap that was taken there by the writers, but I can live with that. Let’s just assume for the benefit of the movie that the police in this fantasy world are even more ineffective than in real life – a scary notion indeed. It’s probably best not to ask any uncomfortable questions, as it clearly seems that this part of the script was written at an ungodly hour, or something to that effect.

I think that “Identity Thief” was planned as a road trip-like comedy and managed to stick to the model for the most part. I have to say that there are some good moments where hilarity ensues and they are mostly owed to Melissa McCarthy’s improvised (?) excursions that most likely weren’t meant to look like that. Sadly, those were few and far between and it vastly diminished the comedic factor of “Identity thief”. Bateman’s character was nicely done – laughable, relatable and cute – but I guess he is more of a one-trick pony in that regard. Nevertheless, his character’s ill-placed logic and down-to-earth attitude were fine additions to McCarthy’s comedy here. If you’ve seen “Horrible bosses”, you’d know what I mean here.

Yeah, we don’t live in a perfect world and those scolding reviews had to have had their foundations somewhere. It turns out that “Identity thief” forgets ‘how to comedy’ half way through the film and turns into a soggy feel-good comedy that lasts until the ending credits… well, almost. But anyway, what could have been a decent picture that had ‘stupid’ written all over it, ended up being the manbearpig of comedy. I can’t really tell whether I just watched a no-holds-barred-sweaty-ass-in-your-face comedy, a sloppy feel-good redemption story or an awkward rom-com that forgot to ‘rom’ in its attempt to ‘com’. Uhh…

All in all, “Identity thief” wasn’t a complete disaster, but it didn’t deliver as well. So, I can’t really decide here, because I loved certain parts of it (mainly the first half of the movie that is more comedic than the other). However, the touchy-feely mood that gradually clouded the film was definitely enough to annoy me. In the end, I’m glad I couple-watched it today with My Wife, because had I been on my own there, I don’t know if I could last until the credits rolled. Then again, had I been alone, I would have watched “Burt Wonderstone” instead, which will have to wait a bit.