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Summer movies, as you may have noticed, are overwhelmingly male-dominated. But this summer, there's an exception: The Heat, a buddy cop flick with a distaff difference.
It centers on two women: FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), who's great at catching crooks but such a relentlessly arrogant, by-the-book process nerd that no one's willing to work with her, and Boston police officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who's equally adept at crook-nabbing but so sloppy and temperamentally inclined to flout rules that no one's willing to work with her, either. Gotta get these two together, right?
It's the classic buddy-cop pairing: An odd-couple mismatch of two comic souls who are professionally (and platonically) married in the same sense that Felix and Oscar were domestically (and platonically) married. That they are walking magnets for the sort of sexism that haunts women in the workplace, and particularly in police work, makes the situation that much more interesting.
That McCarthy will dominate the proceedings is a given. The film is built around Bullock's character — it's she who changes, has a character arc that actually arcs, and learns something while the two of them struggle to work together — but she's decidedly secondary. Invariably, the film is about her reacting to and countering the force of nature that is McCarthy on screen.
Director Paul Feig, who shepherded McCarthy to an Oscar nomination in Bridesmaids after a decade in which she'd been misused by other directors, really gets his star. Not just her profane improv, but her considerable grace with slapstick, and also the kind of offbeat sight gag that works for her — eating a red bell pepper while driving, for instance, which is somehow, unaccountably, hilarious.
The director has found some warmth in Bullock's ice-maiden act, too, and when he gets both their characters doing shots and improvising during a barroom scene — well, let's just say one drinking game they come up with is going to make Scotch tape a required bar accessory within a week or two.
Katie Dippold's screenplay traipses through what some will regard as overfamiliar buddy-flick territory, but there's no denying that having women doing the traipsing gives the camaraderie a different resonance. It's not exactly Thelma and Louise with cuffs instead of the cliff, but in its own way, The Heat is as provocative as it is funny.
Will it have box-office heat? Oh yeah. The Heat 2 is already in the works.