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It’s a cartoon but a good one.

Making trailers for the R-rated ones must be a tough racket. The trailers for The Heat felt more like Rush Hour than Lethal Weapon… if you know what I mean. Turns out, this is a ribald and hilarious comedy that definitely follows the tradition of odd couple buddy cop movies to a tee. Only this time, the buddies are women and the director is Paul Feig, the guy who gave us the similarly female oriented but universally appealing Bridesmaids.

Though this one sometimes slacks off to its detriment, the pairing of aging (not that you’d know it to look at her) Sandra Bullock with Melissa “Force of Nature” McCarthy is pure genius. The movie putters a bit whenever they’re not together, and Bullock performs the more difficult of the two roles completely admirably and very generously to McCarthy, who gets to be the movie’s true selling feature.

Going into this expecting one of Sandra Bullock’s safe, low-laying-fruit movies might be in for a (pleasant I hope) surprise. Personally, I stopped finding her interesting in terms of her work years ago and was very surprised at how game she is here. It made me recall the Sandra Bullock of Demolition Man and Speed rather than the Sandra Bullock of fucking The Blind Side or The Proposal. McCarthy is the kind of comedienne that makes you wary because she seems almost supernaturally good. This owes a lot to her versatility. Not a single fat joke or body-gross joke in The Heat which is impressive if only because those jokes would have been all too easy in this movie.

All in all, this movie works but doesn’t quite soar. There’s enough here to add The Heat to the annals of great buddy movies, and it deserves a lot of credit for managing to find a balance between paying homage to the genre and making the most of being “the chick cop” movie.

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Can’t help but feel like Bullock is sending up some of her prior roles with this one.

Bullock plays Special Agent Ashburn, an FBI hotshot who doesn’t seem to realize what a pain in the ass she is. Neurotic, competitive, and a braggart, Ashburn is the kind of character who would normally act as a foil to our plucky heroines. Instead, The Heat casts her as a heroine whose primary journey is one of self-awareness. She’s a pain in everybody’s ass, yes, but we also see her vulnerability and loneliness and this helps us sympathize with her even as we watch to see just how bad she’s going to stick her foot in her mouth next.

McCarthy, on the other hand, plays a bear of a detective who has bullied pretty much everyone in her precinct into not fucking with her. Cops and criminals are afraid of her and she takes “loose cannon” to a level that is as staggeringly unbelievable as it is entertaining to watch. Most of the laughs in the movie are delivered by Det. Mullins and her acute vulgarity. McCarthy is perfect for this role and perfect as a counterpoint to Ashburn.

While Bullock is obviously the more conventionally attractive of the two, the movie reverses the power dynamic assumed by physical attractiveness. I found this subtly subversive in a movie that mostly avoids wearing feminism on its sleeve. The Heat is matter-of-fact about rejecting chauvinism and promoting female empowerment. Still, it’s interesting that Mullins is the confident and self-possessed one of the two. She’s the heartbreaker, not the lonely workaholic Ashburn who is awkward, uptight, and functionally asexual.

I mean, she borrows her neighbor’s cat.

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It doesn’t take long before McCarthy becomes too entertaining to bother worrying about her preposterous behavior.

The movie is always better when Bullock and McCarthy are playing off of each other. Over time, they learn shit from each other and develop grudging respect that evolves into true friendship. Seriously, you’ve seen this sort of thing before and it’s very clean, straightforward, and familiar. Doesn’t bear much analysis but it’s always nice to see. There’s attention to character in this film, even if it doesn’t do a lot that’s surprising.

Where it sort of falls flat or stumbles a few times is in some haphazard plotting and poorly executed jokes. Though not afraid to be a little risque in today’s ultra-PC climate (the watermelon joke, holy fuck), The Heat also indulges a few too many lazy “policing” sequences that threaten all suspension of disbelief. It seems weird to pick on the movie for having scenes where Asburn and (especially) Mullins break down doors to threaten leads with guns out and ready, no warrants, etc. Or the half-assed “gearing up for the big shootout” sequence which they wind up ditching anyway within ten minutes of getting the two of them to a promising location for a big ol’ gunfight. Because The Heat never veers into surreal or absurd territory like, say, The Other Guys it feels more like a misstep to get so loosey-goosey with this stuff. There are parts of the movie that, as a result, feel tacked on rather than engineered.

Also, The Heat could lose 10-15 minutes and survive just fine. The Larkin reveal is also a miscalculated joke. I get what they were going for. By the time Ashburn and Mullins are about to be tortured by Larkin’s right hand man, everybody expects Larkin to be the albino and for Mullins to be vindicated in her hilarious and justified (because he’s a misogynist) contempt for him. Then it turns out that it’s the albino’s partner, a complete random nobody who is the definition of bland vacancy, and that’s supposed to be the joke. Too bad it doesn’t work precisely due to the anonymity of the “true” Larkin. One of the weaknesses of The Heat is that it fails to generate a fun villain or any real foil for Ashburn and Mullins. They are foils for each other, true, but the formula assumes a real villain and this movie doesn’t have that.

In fact, the plot itself is pretty weak. Ashburn wants a promotion, Mullins wants to keep her brother out of trouble, but since they have 90% of the screentime and dialogue in the movie, there’s not much room to develop anything else beyond the skeleton it needs to be to connect scenes together.

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Oh shit faces all around.

The friendship is heartwarming, the dialogue is hilarious, the secondary characters are also often very funny. There ya go. That’s all you need for a solid, if somewhat lazy comedy that works a lot better while you’re watching it than it does when you think about it. It’s not quite back-handed to say that it’s Bullock and McCarthy that elevate this movie enough that the shortcuts and thin plot don’t impact as much as they could have. Maybe it’s actually high praise.

But I think it’s also a movie full of missed opportunities and occasionally very weird decisions:

Hale, the inexplicably Hispanic (like deeply) FBI boss gets a confusing amount of screen time for a guy who is just there to be mean to Ashburn for little apparent reason, whilst constantly dangling a promotion over her head like a ball of yarn. It’s a good example of the places where the adherence to the buddy cop formula is half-assed and rings false. On the other hand, the send-up of the angry captain over at Mullins’ precinct is the perfect example of how the movie is canny about the conventions of the genre and toys with them effortlessly.

Why does Mullins have a fridge full of awesome guns when they are never used in the movie? Sure Mullins and Ashburn gear up for their (illegal?) assault on Larkin’s supposed lair, but the same hipster turd gets the drop on them again and they get disarmed. Wham, bam, no budget for action ma’am. So don’t have the fridge full of guns, assholes.

Why is Marlon Wayans even in this movie? It’s nice that he’s playing a character where being black has nothing to do with anything, and where he’s not doing annoying things with his face for “laughs” but he’s utterly wasted.

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So I guess I have mixed feelings about both the movie and Sandra Bullock’s cougar thing.

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