Ashburn is an arrogant, ambitious hoity-toity FBI agent who doesn't play well with others.
Mullins is a profane, violent, rough-and-tumble Boston cop who (also) doesn't play well with others.
Naturally, the two make a great pair—the crime-busting equivalent of Simon and Garfunkel with firearms, Montana and Rice with anatomy jokes, Bert and Ernie with oodles of f-words. Such is the magic of movies: Two people who'd typically file restraining orders against each other somehow become the bestest of friends.
Oh, their partnership doesn't begin smoothly. Fictional buddy-cop partnerships rarely do. Mullins is furious when Ashburn steals her parking spot and interviews her perp. Ashburn's appalled by Mullins' hygiene, language and borderline felonious behavior.
But eventually they realize they need each other.
After all, they've got a mysterious and brutal drug network to bring down—and Mullins' brother is, unfortunately, involved. Mullins needs Ashburn's super-secret FBI files (as Mullins can't steal them all). And Ashburn needs Mullins' no-nonsense, streetwise ways. Because, really, if officers of the law can't engage in a little police brutality now and then in the name of bringing in some really bad guys, how effective can they possibly be? (So says Hollywood.)
Ashburn and Mullins have plenty of problems. But in the midst of the mess, you see their desire to protect innocent people and bring criminals to justice. Mullins takes her job so seriously, in fact, that she busted her own brother, Jason, when he got into drug dealing. And though she's been ostracized by her entire family because of it, Mullins has no regrets. Jail, she confides to Ashburn, was the only way to keep him clean and out of the bad guys' reach.
Ashburn grows to understand Mullins' quirks and sees a great cop and a caring person beneath all that bruise-dispensing bluster. When fellow agents mock Mullins in one of her many mugshots, Ashburn flies to her partner's defense, saying that Mullins is a better cop than anyone in the room—herself included. It's a rare display of humility by the FBI agent and a sign that some of her own rough edges are being filed down.
We eventually learn that some of Ashburn's insecurities are related to having bounced around in a foster-care system for most of her childhood. It's a small nod to the importance of being raised in a loving home, one that later prompts Mullins to give Ashburn this touching message: "Foster kid, now you have a sister."
Mullins' family owns several kitschy black-velvet paintings of Jesus participating in sports: knocking a home run as a member of the Boston Red Sox; scoring a goal as a Bruin; slamming home a basketball as a Celtic. They're much treasured by Mullins' father, but they're obviously intended as a visual gag for rest of us.
When the pair tracks a suspect to a nightclub, Mullins buys a glass of whiskey as part of a ruse. When she learns that it's $14, she asks if it was "served in Jesus' shoe." Elsewhere, someone asks Ashburn if she's selling Bibles (due to her conservative clothing).
In the same nightclub, we see several scantily dressed women dancing seductively, including some who seem particularly interested in each other. Mullins slices the sleeves and legs off of Ashburn's outfit so she looks more at home in the nightclub. Ashburn dances and carouses with a suspect (who tells her he's never been physically aroused by a woman over 40 before), comically and sensually moving with him in order to bug his phone.
A picture of a woman's bare behind hangs in an apartment. Prostitutes and other women sport significant cleavage. Mullins arrests a married man for soliciting a prostitute. She then calls his wife to tell her about the affair, and Mullins grows particularly irate when she learns he has five kids. Mullins runs into two former lovers who still have feelings for her; she kisses one of them passionately. When someone accuses her of being racist, Mullins says that nine out of the 10 people she typically sleeps with are black.
Ashburn and Mullins talk about vaginas a lot (their own and other women's) and make frequent references to male privates too. When Ashburn and Mullins spend a drunken night out on the town, we see Ashburn dance with her shirt unbuttoned (her bra visible), slow dance with a couple of old men and, finally, dance with each other. Mullins later tells her that she spent much of the night kissing one of the men she met.
The pair finds a used condom. People touch, adjust, talk about and encourage the examination of breasts. A reference is made to oral sex.
The drug network that Ashburn and Mullins seek to bring down features a particularly sadistic hit man named Julian, a nasty killer with a predilection for knives. Ashburn and Mullins see pictures of his grotesque handiwork early on (as do we), including bloody body parts. Later, when the two detectives land in his nefarious clutches (tied up in two chairs), he shows them several knives with which he plans to carve them up. He's called away momentarily and asks Ashburn to hold the knife for him—jamming it into her thigh. Mullins manages to pull the knife free and cut herself loose. But when she hears footsteps, she tells Ashburn she'll have to put the knife back. So she stabs Ashburn twice to get the thing to stick again in her leg.
Several people get shot, and the resulting wounds (including some in the forehead) result in blood spray. One man is shot twice in the groin (more blood spray), while another has his male anatomy threatened in a game of Russian roulette. Mullins keeps a slew of guns and grenades in her fridge. Ashburn's car blows up, killing an unfortunate man to whom she'd drunkenly given it. The two cops blow up several thugs with a grenade. They also accidentally drop a suspect from a second-story building onto a car's hood below. Mullins tackles and wrestles criminals. And she inflicts pain upon many people (mostly suspected felons) by twisting various body parts (hands, arms, portions of their chests, etc.). She gets one of them to stop running by hitting him with a watermelon. She and Ashburn head-butt others.
Ashburn and Mullins inspect the body of a low-level drug dealer in the morgue. In addition to the bullet wound in his forehead, the forensic scientists tells the detectives that the man had his tongue removed and inserted into his body elsewhere. She then shows the tongue.
Someone is nearly killed by having air injected into his bloodstream. Ashburn cuts her hand on a broken beer bottle. Ashburn tries to save a choking man in a restaurant by performing a makeshift tracheotomy. We watch as she cuts into the man's neck, sticks her fingers into the wound and stuffs a straw into what she hopes is his larynx. When the straw spouts blood, Ashburn realizes she's probably made a mistake.
Crude or Profane Language
At least 150 f-words, nearly 70 s-words and a mountain of other profanities, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "d‑‑k," "t-ts" and "h‑‑‑." Characters misuse God's name more than 60 times (including at least a dozen pairings with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus' name is abused about 20 times.
Remarkably, one of Ashburn's traits early on is her unwillingness to swear. She watches her words carefully and asks that Mullins do the same. But in a transformative moment of sorts, when she comes to Mullins' defense against some mocking co-workers, Ashburn abruptly starts swearing—uncomfortably at first, but growing ever more assured as the vulgarities pile up. Perversely, then, cursing becomes verbal shorthand in the movie for her metamorphosis into a better person. Those who don't cuss are, we're told, too uptight and full of themselves to be of much use to anyone.
Drug and Alcohol Content
The Heat's plot is predicated on bringing down a network of drug dealers. Accordingly, we see and hear a great deal about illicit substances. People are busted for marijuana and cocaine possession. One man smokes a joint. Jason has some gruesome-looking track marks on his arm.
Mullins and Ashburn go out drinking and get thoroughly plastered. We see them quaf shots and glasses of beer. Other people drink and smoke cigarettes as well. The prescription drug Ritalin is mentioned.
Other Negative Elements
Ashburn and Mullins steal things and act unethically. Mullins insults and bullies her boss. Mullins' family snidely confesses a litany of sins, including stealing laptops. People are accused of racism. An albino is unfairly presumed to be an evildoer.
Sandra Bullock can be pretty funny. Melissa McCarthy can be funny too. So you'd think that they'd be even funnier together.
And they are—up to a point.
The Heat could've been just as funny—funnier, in fact—without the scads of raw language and body-part jokes. This movie is so profane, in fact, that bits of the trailer had to be scrubbed clean to air it on TV and before other movies.
I know, I know: Crass is in. And most of today's comedic actors and actresses seem to feel they're at their best when they're creatively employing the f-word.
But as someone who loves to laugh—and laugh with my kids—it's really unfortunate. It's sad to think that 30 years from now when people look back at this age of comediy, Academy Awards producers will be hard pressed to find a classic clip to air on Oscar night without significant editing. Unless, of course, we reach a point by then where there really is no such thing as a curse word. In that case, we'll have bigger problems to worry about.
I realize that comedy is in some respects about being impolite, about making people feel uncomfortable. It's about the shock, the unexpected turn of phrase or pratfall. But when I consider some of the comedic greats from ages past—from Charlie Chaplain to Lucille Ball, from Bill Cosby to Bugs Bunny to Bill Murray—they were often very funny without relying upon profanity to deliver the punch line. You could uncover a clip or movie or even a whole career from among them that you could show to almost anyone and say, "Now that's how it's done. That's funny."
Ferrell, Galifianakis and, yes, McCarthy, on the other hand?
What they do isn't funny. It's actually rather sad. And that turns The Heat into lukewarm leftovers.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sandra Bullock as Ashburn; Melissa McCarthy as Mullins; Demián Bichir as Hale; Marlon Wayans as Levy; Michael Rapaport as Jason Mullins; Jane Curtin as Mrs. Mullins; Spoken Reasons as Rojas; Dan Bakkedahl as Craig; Taran Killam as Adam; Michael McDonald as Julian; Thomas F. Wilson as Captain Woods
Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Unaccompanied Minors, I Am David)
20th Century Fox
June 28, 2013
Paul Asay Paul Asay