by Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
Melissa McCarthy is a force of nature- A typhoon of energy that spares nothing in her pursuit of a laugh, but she always emerges with her dignity intact. That’s not easy to do when you’re a woman of considerable stature who’s asked to squeeze herself through three open car windows in one of “The Heat’s” many physical gags. But she always comes across as fiercely committed not desperate. It’s hard to imagine saying the same thing about Chris Farley.
And McCarthy single-handed drags the laughs out “The Heat” by her sheer force of will and surprising athleticism, forcing many a funny bone to cry uncle. McCarthy is a rude and crude yet highly effective Boston detective who operates by her own set of rules.
She’s paired with a prissy uptight and annoying know it all federal agent (Sandra Bullock) to take down a drug lord. This well-worn premise is just an excuse to let McCarthy and Bullock riff.
In the hands of a lesser actress, McCarthy’s steady stream of non-sequiturs and physical gags would be a mildly amusing distraction at best and intensely annoying camera hog at worst, but underneath the sweat pants, payless gym shoes, and the barrage of f-bombs lies something approaching a real life character.
McCarthy invests her portrayal with a kernel of humanity. Without it she would be just be A desperate clown mugging for attention.
While McCarthy packs the heat, the rest of the movie is lukewarm at best. Sandra Bullock shows she’s game for anything, but she’s mostly asked to play it straight and become a sounding board for McCarthy’s one liners.
Second City, I.O. and Daily Show veteran Dan Bakkedahl has a couple of amusing scenes as a misogynistic albino DEA agent, but whenever the film gets down to the business of moving along its half-assed plot it bogs down. And some of the lower hanging fruit (including obvious jokes about the Boston accent and penchant for the word wicked) are too hacky to land.
There may come a time when Melissa McCarthy wears out her welcome, or encounters a script so full of comedy kryptonite even a superwoman of her stature can’t save it. But considering what she’s done so far (she was the only one to squeeze a laugh out of “Hangover III”), I don’t think that day is coming anytime soon.