"Beverly Hills Cop." "Lethal Weapon." "48 Hours." "Tango & Cash." The buddy cop movie is a reliable mainstay of our popular culture. And the cops are pretty much always guys.
So the fact that BOTH the cops in "The Heat" are women would be reason enough to welcome it to the genre. Beyond that, though, the movie is undeniably entertaining – if quite uneven, and sometimes truly over-the-top. The good stuff comes from the obvious chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The actresses sure look like they're having a blast. And if they're faking it, well, they're doing an even more impressive job than we thought.
Of course, there's a formulaic element to "The Heat," which is directed by Paul Feig of "Bridesmaids" fame – buddy cop movies ARE based on a formula, and this film is content to stay within it.
The cops are always terrifically mismatched, usually one straight-laced, the other wild and unpredictable. They're brought together to solve a case that no one else can. They hate each other at first, but gradually, dontcha know, they learn to ... OK, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Bullock is Sarah Ashburn, an FBI agent so compulsively dedicated to her job that she has no outside life – unless you count a cat which isn't even hers. She has an uncanny knack for finding the drugs and guns others have missed. But then she arrogantly lords it over her less gifted colleagues – even those poor, untalented drug-sniffing dogs.
Then there's Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), who's way more anti-social than Ashburn. In fact, she's a holy terror – a crude, profane, angry creature who has no problem reducing her boss to an emasculated, quivering mass. When we first meet her, we wonder if she's just gonna be too much to take for two hours. But once McCarthy hits her stride in an awesome bit of boss-shaming back at the precinct, she's off and running.
The two women are trying to take down a vicious drug lord in Boston, and that's all you need to know about the generic plot. The supporting cast is good but kept far from the spotlight. It would have been nice to see more of Jane Curtin, especially; the mere thought of her playing a foul-mouthed mother to McCarthy is enough to make you laugh.
And laugh you will, even if you're surprised at yourself sometimes. The funniest moments are when McCarthy's Mullins assesses her uptight partner as if she were some strange and rare animal she encountered at the zoo. Watch her react to the incomprehensible sight of Ashburn in Spanx, something she's never seen. (Does Bullock really need Spanx, though? We digress.)
At another point, Mullins visits Ashburn at home, where the FBI agent is dressed in perfectly pressed pajamas. Mullins thinks she's wearing a tux. Alas, we can't quote this or really any dialogue by screenwriter Katie Dippold – the expletives flow fast and furiously.
Then there's the dive-bar scene, where the women bond over drinking and yes, dancing. As throughout the film, both actresses are uninhibited physical comediennes here. And they do seem to be improvising much of the time.
Some moments go too far, and last too long. A diner scene where Ashburn tries to save a choking patron is agonizing, but even with mouth agape, you'll probably still laugh, and kudos to the actor playing the paramedic: Talk about making the most of a few lines.
Many buddy cop films are corny by the end. There are syrupy scenes here too, but as elsewhere in this uneven movie, the actresses are committed enough to make it work.
And Jerry Lewis, are you listening? Despite what you say, female comedy is funny. Especially with McCarthy on the screen.
"The Heat," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence. Running time: 117 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.