Before I tell you what a huge fan of Bridesmaids director Paul Feig I am, and what a worthy follow-up to that comic milestone his new film is, I feel it my duty to correct the cinematic record. Although virtually every review of The Heat you read will at some point declare it the first buddy cop film to feature a mismatched team of crime-fighting women, this simply isn’t the case. Permit me to remind you of a major Hollywood production written and directed by a major (though little-known) Hollywood player, Dan Goldberg, which actually broke that barrier a quarter century ago: Feds.
It’s not surprising that Goldberg got there first: He’s assembled one of movie comedy’s most impressive résumés. What is surprising is that a guy could somehow be talented enough to write Meatballs (1979) and Stripes (1981) and produce everything from Private Parts (1997) and Old School (2003) to all three Hangovers while not becoming a household name.
For whatever reason, Goldberg has kept a low profile, and the same can be said for his female-buddy-film breakthrough. There’s a reason critics are calling The Heat the first film of its kind; Feds was as forgettable as it was groundbreaking. Rebecca De Mornay and “Saturday Night Live” alum Mary Gross played fledgling FBI agents forced to divide their time between battling bad guys and the chauvinism of their fellow agents. Hey, it wasn’t the funnier of the two films, but it was the first.
Paul Feig’s résumé may not be quite as mind-boggling as Goldberg’s — yet — but he’s off to a pretty promising start, having created the TV cult favorite “Freaks and Geeks” and honed his art directing episodes of “Arrested Development,” “Weeds” and “The Office.” In 2011, he helmed Bridesmaids, the comedy that turned Hollywood humor on its head and gave Melissa McCarthy (who’d been making films for a decade and a half) a proper introduction to the movie going world. Suddenly women were recognized as being just as foul-mouthed funny as their male counterparts. And none was foul-mouthed funnier than McCarthy. She didn’t just change movie comedy; she earned an Oscar nomination for the brilliance and originality with which she did so. She was the Beatles to Feig’s George Martin. Or something like that.
So going into The Heat, I had just one question: Could they follow up Meet the Beatles with the comic equivalent of Beatles ’65? I’m happy to report the answer is a definitive yeah, yeah, yeah. I may be overdoing the Fab Four comparison, but only because I believe it reflects the revolutionary impact of McCarthy’s extraordinary gifts. She’s a force of nature and, if you think that’s an exaggeration, watch the outtakes from This Is 40. The bonus footage of her improvising a single scene has more laughs than most mainstream comedies. Plus their sequels.
Here’s all you really need to know about this picture: It doesn’t matter that McCarthy plays a rule-breaking Boston detective, or that Sandra Bullock is a by-the-book FBI agent, or that the odd couple teams up to take down a Beantown drug lord. The plot is buddy-film boilerplate, little more than an excuse for McCarthy to do her thing. All that matters is she does it, and Bullock doesn’t get in the way.
McCarthy is easily as gut busting as any guy who’s ever played essentially the same part — from Mel Gibson to Martin Lawrence to Nick Nolte to Chris Tucker. The difference isn’t even so much that she’s a woman as that she makes up so much of her funniest stuff as she goes along. Her brain is like the world’s fastest, filthiest supercomputer. It’s a lethal weapon. She kills. The Heat is the most fun you’ll ever have in police custody, and the one time you’ll be glad you got a ticket.