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The Heat

A gender-bending twist gives raunchy life to a buddy-cop comedy

It’s a female twist on the buddy-cop comedy: A high-strung FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) and a rash, ruthless Boston policewoman (Melissa McCarthy) are forced to work together to bring down a drug lord.

Special agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) is good at her job. She’s a wealth of information, always on top of her investigations and can find stashed drugs faster than the K-9 unit. Unfortunately, what Ashburn boasts in brains she lacks in people skills. Half of the FBI wants her to fail; the other half avoids her.
    To finally prove that she is the best Fed in the agency and win a promotion, Ashburn chases a new drug dealer who is killing off the competition. If Ashburn can apprehend him without annoying the entirety of Boston, she may earn the respect she craves.
    In Ashburn’s way is Boston Police officer Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy: The Hangover 3). Messy, foul-mouthed and prone to violence, Mullins terrorizes even her captain. She’s immediately distrustful of the persnickety Ashburn, and she wants the take-down on the mystery drug kingpin who is bloodying her neighborhood.
    In the grand tradition of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, Ashburn and Mullins find their styles in direct conflict. Can they learn how to work together for the greater good? Will Ashburn ever lighten up? Will Mullins ever change her shirt?
    Filled with expletive-laden language, violence and physical comedy, The Heat is a mediocre buddy-cop flick with one interesting twist: The gender of the characters. By casting the fairer sex in roles typically reserved for men, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) made the movie more interesting.
    Why should men get to corner the market on cursing and shooting?
    Director Feig takes pains to show his characters’ isolation. There are no female coworkers to commiserate with over coffee. Men ignore them or want to take them down a peg. Yet Mullins and Ashburn know themselves and exude confidence. Their self-assured behavior, as much as their quirky personalities, alienates them from their male colleagues.
    The drug-dealer plot is a paper-thin excuse to move Bullock and McCarthy from one comedy set piece to another. But the bond between the two leading ladies is so strong that they manage to distract us from the film’s failings. As Mullins and Ashburn warm to each other, McCarthy and Bullock are given more freedom to act outrageously.
    The ploy works, making The Heat one of the few films this year to earn genuine guffaws from this reviewer and her audience members.
    As the pernicious Ashburn, Bullock isn’t treading new ground. Her natural charisma and adept comic timing help keep her fastidious character likeable, even when she’s acting loony.
    As Mullins, McCarthy follows in the foul-mouthed tradition of Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley and the lumbering physical comedy of Chris Farley. Her gender sets her apart in this brand of humor, for it’s the rare woman who revels in disgusting behavior.
    If you’ve got a high tolerance for outrageous language and if you love strong female characters, The Heat is your best bet for a summer blockbuster. Just leave the kids at home, lest they expand their vocabulary.

Good Action • R • 117 mins.