It's about time the buddy cop flick got a makeover. Director Paul Feig breathes new life in the old trope, with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as an officer odd couple. That they go on to beat the bad guys is obvious. But at every turn is a comic treasure – from a tracheotomy gone horribly awry, to a casting choice for a prostitute John so brilliant, I wouldn't dream of spoiling it.
"The Heat" channels the superb blend of crude humor, clever dialogue and wicked delivery of Feig's 2011 film "Bridesmaids" (which also featured McCarthy). And while it may not be the seminal film that "Bridesmaids" was, "The Heat" proves beyond any doubt that women can be funny – especially when you let them fire big guns and f-bombs.
Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is a hot-shot New York City FBI agent sent up to Boston to hunt down a drug lord. She's ordered to team with local cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) – a crude, rule-breaking rough and tumble type who knows the Boston streets.
Of course, they butt heads right off the bat, with an ambitious Ashburn running into Mullins' instinct to protect her troubled kin.
Ashburn is competent at her job – a stickler for the rules who does her homework and isn't afraid of a little self promotion.
And Mullins resists all female stereotypes entirely (as McCarthy typically does). With her slovenly appearance, proclivity for physical abuse and a mouth dirtier than a jail cell toilet, Mullins fills those around her with fear and admiration. She clings to her guns and her religion – that religion being New England sports. But she is also fiercely loyal to her family and her job.
When they're not annoying one another, Mullins and Ashburn take on the typical drug cartel hierarchy, from the low level street dealer (Spoken Reasons) to the skeazy middle man (Michael McDonald) to the mysterious villain at the top of the ladder. They also must deal with the bloated bureaucracy of competing government agencies (the DEA is extremely protective of its turf) and the sexist attitudes of their coworkers.
But rather than hit you over the head with gender commentary, "The Heat" uses it as a jumping off point for its humor. Some shots are cheap ("Hard to believe she's single," one of Ashburn's jealous colleagues remark), but most are far more clever (including a recurring riff that brings new meaning to "crazy cat lady"). Whatever arguments the film is trying to make about the discrimination women face in the workplace, "The Heat" thickly coats with sophomoric sugar.
Gender inversions aside, "The Heat" doesn't depart much from buddy cop convention. Ashburn and Mullins have their antagonistic first encounter, their early passive aggressive face-offs, their disapproving superiors and a night of heavy drinking that leads to an emotional catharsis and a silly dance-off montage. As is to be expected, they go from bumbling to badass, and become best friends in the process.
Yet, "The Heat" is sharply executed, excelling in unrelenting physical humor and the pairs' on-screen chemistry – well, Bullock manages not to get drowned out by McCarthy's outsized comedic chops, and delivers some memorable lines and gags of her own.
To some degree, both are playing versions of some of their most memorable characters: the socially challenged FBI agent Gracie Hart of "Miss Congeniality" for Bullock and, to a lesser extent, the scene-stealing, over-the-top Megan of "Bridesmaids" for McCarthy. But put them in the familiar buddy cop film that seems to replicate itself every summer, and something new comes out: a rip-roaring, raucous and refreshing comedy.
They should let the ladies reboot movie tropes more often.