MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Heat' between stars is funniest part of buddy comedy


Photo: 20th Century Fox FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock, left) and Boston Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) sit in shock after an unexpected setback.



2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

Peaking in popularity at around the time of the first "Lethal Weapon," the mismatched-cop/buddy-action-comedy is still one of the most profitable of all sub-genres. Cheap to produce, simple to write and beyond-easy to market, they are the cinematic equivalent of fast-food combo meals. They're tasty, filling, uncomplicated and essentially lacking in anything nutritional.

It's almost impossible to come up with something different with these productions but "The Heat" does so and it's stupefying why someone didn't make one like it years ago. Surely to corral a previously missing demographic (over-30 women), "The Heat" features two female leads -- Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy -- with each bringing a completely different set of comic sensibilities to the table. It is their chemistry that (barely) saves a movie that contains every possible narrative crutch, genre staple and recycled cliche.

With the carrot of a possible promotion, FBI agent Ashburn (Bullock) heads from New York to Boston to try to identify a mysterious drug lord who leaves dismembered bodies in his wake. An impossibly anal overachiever, Ashburn, though highly productive with an impressive resume, is a major pill who turns off her co-workers and is completely devoid of a social life.

Beantown native Mullins (McCarthy) couldn't be more different. An undercover detective with a linebacker's physique, a biker's wardrobe and a longshoreman's vocabulary, Mullins is free in every way Ashburn is not but rather than alienating her co-workers with super-efficient adherence to rules and regulations does so with intimidation, brute force and vulgar brow-beating.

The requisite first-act oil vs. water/hate-fest is easily the funniest and most rewarding portion of the film. Believing rank and a handsome but boring pantsuit trumps all else, Ashburn makes the bad mistake of horning in on Mullins' urban home turf and lives to regret it. Fearless to the point of reckless, Mullins never lets up on her dressing down of the prim and inflexible Ashburn and, thanks to a profane-strewn screenplay by Katie Dippold (who both writes for and acts in "Parks and Recreation") coupled with McCarthy's improvisational prowess, the comedy is ribald blue, relentless and gut-busting.

No surprise to anyone familiar with this genre, the initial friction and acrimony yields to common ground understanding and eventually hopelessly blind devotion between the leads. For women, this by-the-numbers narrative trek will go far in getting them to overlook the graphic language and medium grade violence. It should be made abundantly clear that even though this is above all a chick-bonding flick, it is definitely not something that should be considered for a mother-daughter night out type of thing.

While generally keeping the pace quick and balancing the comedy and action well, director Paul Feig (who previously worked with McCarthy on the similarly risque "Bridesmaids") lets some of the scenes go on way longer than they should which results in an overlong (117 minutes) running time. A 15-minute final edit would have done wonders.

As crucial as the chemistry is for leads in this type of movie (and it is superb here), the casting of the supporting cast is equally as important and for the most part, the filmmakers and producers miss the mark. The dozen or so secondary law enforcement and criminal characters are painfully generic, unremarkably cast and instantly forgettable. The one exception is with a DEA agent (Dan Bakkedahl) that is an albino and the target of some truly questionable-in-taste jokes and taunts.

Taking a cue from another recent Boston-based film ("The Fighter"), Dippold includes a handful of scenes with Mullins' family (including Michael Rappaport and Jane Curtin) that are very funny, politically incorrect and put the "funk" back in "dysfunction." There is more than enough comic potential within the family to give them their own film.

Before "The Heat" was even released, a sequel was announced by Fox, which makes complete sense. With a budget of about $40 million, it is almost certain this flick will clear a profit quickly and then enjoy a healthy post-theatrical life on home video. This is a cow-cash franchise/spin-off in the making and it's a safe bet everyone who can benefit from more of the same will bilk it for as long as they possibly can. (Fox)