The Heat


Some pictures say a thousand words; this one just says "say WHAT?!?"

Some pictures say a thousand words; this one just says “say WHAT?!?”

(2013) Buddy Cop Comedy (20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Tom Wilson, Peter Weireter, Erica Derrickson, Kaitlin Olson, Joey McIntyre, Michael Tucci, Bill Burr, Nathan Corddry, Jessica Chaffin, Jamie Denbo. Directed by Paul Feig

It is 2013 in Hollywood and after decades of inspired (and uninspired) Odd Couple buddy cop pairings, America gets its first all-woman cop buddy duo. I would think that just for being a trailblazer The Heat should get props, and it does particularly since they cast the two roles perfectly.

Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is an ambitious but uptight FBI agent. She’s very successful at closing cases but her people skills are a bit lacking. She’s smarter than most of the men around her and she knows it but what’s worse she likes to show it off. She’s eager for a promotion that she’s probably richly earned but her boss (Bichir) isn’t so sure; he instead sends her from New York to Boston to take down a mysterious drug lord who is pushing his way into the city.

Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) is a rude, crude and lewd Boston cop who intimidates her colleagues with her foul mouth, her nasty attitude and her hair-trigger temper. When she’s not abusing her boss (Wilson) – who bears more than a passing resemblance to Biff Tannen – she’s having one night stands with clingy men and bickering with her family. She’s so tough she arrested her brother Jason (Rapaport) and sent him to prison, from which he’s just emerging.

The two are more or less after the same guy. At first, of course, they are competing but when ordered to work together these lone wolves find out that there is some benefits from working in a pack. However they’re up against a very male-oriented culture which doesn’t take them seriously and to make matters worse, Mullins family is at risk from a sadistic killer (McDonald).

Melissa McCarthy broke out as a big star in a supporting role in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and it’s no accident that he’s behind the camera for the role that may make her a superstar. This is the perfect part for McCarthy – foul-mouthed, physical with a tender side that really makes better use of her talents than this year’s earlier hit Identity Thief did. Some of her zingers were the kind that made you laugh so hard that you missed dialogue that came out after it.

She is paired perfectly with Bullock who has played tough cops before but here she allows a little prissiness to set in. She’s so lonely that her cat isn’t even hers – it’s her neighbor’s who is vexed that the cat visits “the weird lady next door.” Bullock is one of the best at playing socially awkward but extremely competent women – remember her boss from Hell in The Proposal? – and nobody does book-smart-but-people-dumb like Bullock. The chemistry between her an McCarthy is on the level of Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson/Danny Glover in the annals of cop buddies.

Although the film is groundbreaking, it’s a shame they couldn’t give the two leading ladies a groundbreaking script to work with. Despite the terrific performances of Bullock and McCarthy (and of the cast in general), the plot is such that it feels like it was written in a Screenwriting 101 class. If you’re going to have two women leading a cop buddy movie, play to the strengths of women in general instead of just having them referring to their lady parts in a series of crude jokes. Cagney and Lacey and Rizzolli and Isles were both able to do this successfully on television; while I get those shows are both more procedurals than this one, I don’t think they needed to give the women ugly male characteristics to make this funny, unless of course they’re trying to make the point that the two sexes are more alike than unalike which I can appreciate.y

In any case, this is superior summer entertainment that has that element of familiarity that Hollywood thinks American movie audiences yearn for. It bodes well for the future of McCarthy to take the throne as America’s reigning film comedienne superstar with her two big hits this year. She is clearly the reason to go see this movie and clearly looks to be as funny if not funnier than some of her highest-paid male colleagues right now.

REASONS TO GO: Bullock plays surprisingly well against type and for her part this is right in McCarthy’s wheelhouse.

REASONS TO STAY: Beyond the novelty factor of two women in the lead roles, the movie doesn’t really add much to the buddy cop genre.

FAMILY VALUES:  A buttload of bad language. Some of the content is on the crude side, and there’s a bit of violence to top it all off.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was originally set for a late spring release, but the studio, encouraged by early reception to the film, decided to move it into the summer.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100; the reviews are pretty much split but leaning towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Other Guys

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Lone Ranger (2013)

Assassination of a High School President


Assassination of a High School President

Reece Daniel Thompson has an unusual medical condition in which he is unable to see pretty girls, which amuses Mischa Barton no end.

(2008) Faux Noir (Yari Film Group) Mischa Barton, Reece Daniel Thompson, Bruce Willis, Michael Rapaport, Kathryn Morris, Melonie Dias, Josh Pais, Luke Grimes, Patrick Taylor, Zoe Kravitz, Aaron Himmelstein, Joe Perrino, Tanya Fischer. Directed by Brett Simon

Teenagers are kind of stuck with a raw deal. They have little life experience but the pressure is on them to be cool, conform – and yet stand out. Of late, there have been a few movies here and there that have attempted to make teenaged film noir – movies like Brick and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys come immediately to mind – complete with world-weary tough guy narration, albeit hipped up to sound somewhat semi-authentic although usually by the time the film is released the jargon is hopelessly out-dated.

This falls in that school, although with considerably less polish. In this film, Bobby Funke (Thompson) – whose last name is pronounced “funk” but is consistently pronounced as “funky” throughout the movie – is an ambitious sophomore at the prestigious Catholic school St. Donovan. He is looking to nab himself a spot in Northwestern University’s summer journalism program, despite the small issue that he has been unable to finish a story to date.

His editor Clara (Dias) has him do a piece on the student body president Paul Moore (Taylor). Moore’s a basketball star and like many of the students at St. Donovan’s finds enjoyment in bullying Bobby. When Principal Kirkpatrick (Willis) discovers that SAT tests have been stolen from the school safe, he rounds up a bunch of the usual suspects, including Paul.

Paul is essentially ready to give up but at the urging of Francesca Facchini (Barton), one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school, he begins to dig into the case of the stolen SATs. All of the evidence points to Paul being the culprit. Bobby finally completes an article which prompts Principal Kirkpatrick to open Paul’s locker where the missing tests are found.

Clara submits Bobby’s article to Northwestern which wins him the coveted scholarship to the summer internship. Bobby goes from zero to hero, but his nature is to take nothing at face value and as he begins to dig deeper, he discovers a deeper, more sinister conspiracy going on.

This is one of those movies that takes itself far more seriously than it deserves to. While Thompson gives it a game effort, much of the dialogue and characterization makes him look and sound like an arrogant prick, not exactly an ideal way to get the audience to identify with him. Barton, taking on the role of the femme fatale, has the look down pat but not the sensuality quite yet. Don’t get me wrong – she’s a beautiful, sexy woman – but there is a difference between being beautiful and sexy and being a femme fatale; it’s beautiful and sexy on steroids.

Willis is fun to watch here; not only is he the school principal, he’s a one-legged ex-Marine who bleeds red, white and blue and no doubt has an American eagle tattooed on his tush. There are roles that call for excessive scenery chewing and Willis chows down with gusto. Make no mistake; Willis can go over-the-top with the best of them and so his casting here could only be called inspired.

Too bad the filmmakers didn’t take Bruno’s lead. Movies that turn out to be hip are generally efforts that don’t try to be, and you can tell this one is trying real hard. I don’t have an issue with teens doing noir – I just have a problem with teen noir done badly. There are some moments here that are enough to redeem this somewhat (generally the ones with Willis in them) but by and large this is one that you haven’t heard of for a reason.

WHY RENT THIS: Willis has a good time with the movie. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Regards itself as being much cooler than it actually is. Hard to get behind characters who are arrogant and spoiled. 

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of nudity, a good deal of sexual content, a whole lot of bad language and a fair amount of drug and alcohol use, the lot of it done by teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was to have received a wide release on February 27, 2009 but the distribution company’s bankruptcy prevented it. It was released direct-to-DVD on October 6, 2009.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $69,564 on an unreported production budget; there is absolutely no way this movie made any sort of profit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat

Deep Blue Sea


Deep Blue Sea
Thomas Jane is slightly overmatched.

(1999) Action Thriller (Warner Brothers) Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgard, LL Cool J, Aida Turturro, Cristos, Daniel Bahimo Rey, Valente Rodriguez, Brent Roam, Eyal Podell, Erinn Bartlett. Directed by Renny Harlin

Several years ago, Hollywood churned out three movies in a row – Deep Star Six, Leviathan and The Abyss – that all featured a claustrophobic monster hunt in a cramped undersea station environment. Of those only the latter had any merit as James Cameron, pre-Titanic, got to work out his aquatic fixation.

You’d think Hollywood would have learned. This is a movie that crams in as many clichés as the producers thought they could fit into a single movie; mad scientists messing with Mother Nature, Mother Nature turning bitchy on the mad scientist, taciturn brooding hero with a checkered past, a group of researchers trapped on an underwater research facility by a big ol’ storm, a Terrible Secret, killer sharks ripping people into bite-sized hunks o’ gore and monsters WAY smarter than the trapped station personnel. Yes, all this and comic relief too.

Doctors McAlister (Burrows) and Whitlock (Skarsgard) are doing research into eradicating Alzheimer’s by testing their drugs on sharks, but all they wind up with is really smart sharks.  Diver Carter Blake (Jane) is thrown into the equation to save the day after a combination of a really bad storm and some pissed off super-smart sharks wreck the station and cut off the survivors only hope of escape.

Now, I’ll watch Samuel L. Jackson in a bad movie any day of the week, and his presence here earns the movie the stars it gets. Jackson is a wealthy man with compassion and a conscience; in short, the kind of guy who doesn’t really exist in real life. He has the best moments in the movie, including a pep talk that ends up unexpectedly and to great effect. Most of the other actors here really, um, tank.

LL Cool J, who plays a devout chef, utters the best line of the movie when things look bleak and it looks like the sharks are about to break into the humans’ temporary sanctuary: “I’m (doomed). Brothers always get eaten in situations like this.” The rapper-turned-actor is actually pretty likable despite a poorly-written character.

This isn’t one of the movies that director Renny Harlin will proudly display in his list of accomplishments. Some of the shark effects are nifty, but for the most part, LOOK fake. Too much CGI ruins the soup, folks. A little less cliché and a little more inventiveness might have saved this movie, but after Jaws let’s face it; no other shark movie is ever going to come close.

WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J are worth watching. Or you really like sharks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cliché soup. Poorly written characters give the actors very little to work with. CGI is unbearable in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s quite a bit of shark gore here and a few choice bad words.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the usage of real sharks and mechanical sharks in the movie, and the drawbacks of both.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $164.7M on a $60M production budget; the theatrical run was quite profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Six Days of Darkness continue!