The Heat

(2013) ** R
117 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Paul Feig. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Kaitlin Olson, Demian Bichir, Michael Rapaport, Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Tom Wilson, Tony Hale, Michael McDonald, Bill Burr, Nathan Corddry, Michael Tucci, Joey McIntyre, Ben Falcone.

/content/films/4531/2.jpgThe "feminist" buddy-cop comedy The Heat proves its bona fides by being about as funny and as lazy as guy-fronted buddy-cop comedies. I'm not sure that's a victory for women, but it will probably translate into healthy box office.

Of course, you have your Cagney & Lacey and your Rizzoli & Isles, but those are TV shows. A big-studio female buddy-cop movie may not be a first (remember Feds? I didn't think so...), but it's certainly a rarity. I suppose this is "evolved" studio thinking: there's money in tapping the female audience, but there's presumably even more money to be had by doing it with shootouts, car chases, an explosion or two, and gross-out humor that might also bring in those knuckle-draggers known as men (and boys, if they can get around that rating).

Sandra Bullock plays FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn: she's brilliant but also arrogant and competitive, which annoys the men who surround her. With a promotion at stake, by-the-book Ashburn finds herself forced to play nice with burn-the-book Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), whose technique is less Sherlock Holmes and more bull in a china shop. They're set loose on a flimsy, Lethal Weapon-y drug case, an excuse for the ol' odd-couple tropes to play out: the uncool Ashburn needs to learn not to be so uptight, while the hard Mullins needs to learn to let down her emotional guard.

As written by Katie Dippold, The Heat suggests not only that Ashburn needs to be softer to get ahead professionally, but that she should check her self-confidence, which turns out to be horrifyingly misplaced. That may not be the best message for professional women, but it's confusingly countered by the unstoppable Mullins, portrayed as objectively repulsive (crass and unclean) but subjectively desirable in her own supreme self-confidence; she always gets her way, and she has to beat the men off with a (night)stick. And let's not plumb the nasty battle-of-the-sexes undercurrent carrying frequent (and not empty) threats to the genitals.

Certainly, The Heat has no fear of employing shock-and-awe tactics to get big reactions from an audience. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) earns his "R" rating with a steady output of blistering profanity and bursts of outrageous violence. And yet, in purely comic terms, The Heat feels somewhat staid, pulling the punches of its absurdity (unlike, say, The Other Guys) when it could be deconstructing the buddy-cop formula. (The picture's parody mostly extends to lifting the obnoxiously combative Boston family from The Fighter.)

It helps that The Heat has two skilled, inherently likeable leads selling the material—though McCarthy pushes her character's unpleasantness much further than she did in her similarly structured odd-couple hit Identity Thief. Living and dying by the sword of the Judd Apatow style, comedy insider Feig loads up the movie with talented performers—from Demián Bichir to Jane Curtin—and gives them a bit of riffing room (Apatow didn't produce, but you wouldn't know it from the two-hour run time). The meeting of McCarthy's stinging zingers and Bullock's practiced exasperation almost justifies The Heat, but it's more of a lob than a fastball.

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