Bullock and McCarthy bring it in 'The Heat'
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
The buddy-cop genre gets a much-needed shot in the arm thanks to Paul Feig's "The Heat," the "Bridesmaids" helmer's first outing since his 2011 megahit, and one that reunites him with breakout star Melissa McCarthy for the sake of maximum amusement. McCarthy's "buddy" and fellow "cop" in this particular buddy-cop scenario is Sandra Bullock, playing an FBI agent who finds herself unexpectedly and unwillingly partnered up with McCarthy's local Boston fuzz to capture an anonymous drug lord who is slowly gobbling up the city's streets. The conflict of their pairing is simple: Both special agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) and officer Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) are wildly unsuited for collaborative crime fighting, and the two busy themselves by battling each other when they really need to focus on the bad guys, but a rapid-fire script and the inspired pairing of Bullock and McCarthy make "The Heat" one of the funniest films of the year so far.
As with any great offbeat and mismatched cinematic duo, both Ashburn and Mullins are quickly convinced that their new partner can't possibly understand who they are and how they do things. They are, of course, both totally wrong. While the leading ladies of "The Heat" are unquestionably excellent at their jobs, even their solid law enforcement abilities can't win them friends, respect or influence. Ashburn is driven to succeed in hopes that she'll lock down a new promotion (she has nothing else beyond her job), while Mullins is haunted by a moral code so strict that she's thrown her own brother (Michael Rapaport) in jail (an unfortunate side of her job that's made her a pariah in her own family). That all certainly sounds serious, but "The Heat" is a smart enough comedy that it's willing to dig for laughs alongside unexpectedly emotional stakes, and it's all the better for it.
It also doesn't hurt that Bullock and McCarthy possess one heck of a surprising comedic chemistry together, and "The Heat" is packed with both long-form sequences of wacky high jinks (anytime the pair find themselves in an establishment that serves alcohol, it's guaranteed hilarity) and zing-filled conversations (their version of good cop/bad cop is one of the best put to film in recent memory). McCarthy in particular is at the top of her game here, and both her comedic timing and willingness to go great guns in the name of a big laugh aren't her only strengths, as she's also able to infuse even a tough cookie like Mullins with a strange sweetness that only another tough cookie like Ashburn could appreciate.
While the film's nearly two-hour runtime is a bit long for a comedic outing like "The Heat," Feig and his leading ladies keep things zippy and quippy enough that the film rarely feels bloated or bogged down. Penned by Katie Dippold, who has previously written for both "MADtv" and "Parks and Recreation," the film is refreshingly free of comedic sensibilities that could be deemed too sitcom-like or too skit-like to work on the big screen. Though the film's script may be fairly obvious when it comes to its progressions -- the gals' inevitable big bust-up and a late-in-the-game twist feel cribbed from plenty of previous productions -- it's all funny enough to be mostly forgivable. Dippold has the chops to write witty and wise comedy, and the film's two very game stars and Feig's direction are a perfect fit for such a production.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in New York City.