The cop buddy film is legend, if not always legendary, but it has provided more than its share of enjoyable onscreen moments. I still remember the sheer joy that was Eddie Murphy running roughshod over a bunch of rednecks while the aged but still cool Nick Nolte sardonically looked on, and that was from watching 48 Hours at the Mahaiwe Theatre back in 1982. The Heat, a new movie written by Katie Dippold and directed by Paul Feig, doesn’t do much new with the genre other than flip the sex of the lead detectives, but this subtle change delivers a thoroughly enjoyable romp.
FBI Agent Sara Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is a wiz at busting up crime rings; the trouble is her team despises her professional confidence and grating personality. She’s transferred to Boston to help the police department there get the goods on a particular vicious drug lord known as Larkin. In short order, she antagonizes the BPD’s equally abrasive detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), perhaps the one person who makes Hill Street Blues’ Belker appear debonair. Needless to say, opposite attract—eventually. Ashburn, all tacky pantsuits and bobby-pinned hair, uses the first initials of expletives when she’s mad; we can’t help see it coming when Mullins says, “I’ve been thinking of ways to kill you for the last half hour.” Mullins drops people, such as ex-lovers and estranged family members, with a brusqueness that verges on verbal assault. Still, the two women are committed to upholding the law, even if means unceremoniously cutting down to size a variety of drug dealers, whores, etc. Some viewers will cringe at what they see as infringements of civil liberties; others, like me, will applaud the visceral delight in seeing some punk get some measure of what he deserves.
The plot is ostensibly about taking down Larkin, but it also includes in elements such as Shannon’s ex-con brother. Shannon herself sent the brother up the river in order to save him from his drug addiction and bad associates; we also see the subsequent cold shoulder she’s earned from her family. Along the way, we find out that Ashburn was a foster child whose yearbook contains just two “have a nice summer” type well wishes from teachers; the movie refrains, however, from swerving into Lifetime Movies for Women sentimentality. This might be, in part, because the filmmakers are too busy enjoying the experience of Bullock and McCarthy gleefully playing their roles with physical finesse and verbal virtuosity. Apparently, a sequel is in the works, and I for one look forward to it. The Heat may disappoint some in its failure to dig deeper into the sometimes lonely existences of tough women working in traditionally male fields, although I think Dippold subtly brings that into the narrative without changing the tone of what is, and should be, a really good comedy.