By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — One’s got a long track record and an Oscar on her mantel, the other’s lighting up the comedy circuit on large and small screens everywhere.
So both are generating A-list box-office heat.
Thus their summer pairing in the odd-couple police-action thriller The Heat, in which Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play disliked loners with the social skills of skunks who are in pursuit of an elusive Russian mobster, a murderous drug lord.
Yep, you’re right, we’ve been there a million times.
Yet even if every plot point in The Heat were suffocatingly familiar in this male-dominated genre, the film would still feel fresh because it remains an absolute rarity: finally, a female buddy-cop flick!
Bullock is prim-and-proper, by-the-book FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn, an accomplished and respected investigator who has gained a high degree of self-respect with more than a dash of arrogance, and who is actively seeking what she perceives as a well-deserved promotion.
So when she’s paired with street-wise Boston PD detective Shannon Mullins, played as a slovenly loose cannon with a mean streak by McCarthy, she’s understandably unimpressed.
The key element here, as you can imagine, is the comic chemistry between the two leads. And it’s considerable and entertaining. Bullock is her usual dependable self, calibrating her character effectively without overdoing it within the confines of the action-thriller genre.
As for breakout star McCarthy, so fine in a supporting role in Bridesmaids, then so overbearing when her talent was squandered as the female lead opposite Jason Bateman in Identity Thief earlier this year, she reunites with director Paul Feig, who knows how to showcase her hilarious, motormouth, scatological line readings and her flair for physical comedy.
Producer and director Feig, who directed McCarthy to her out-of-nowhere Oscar nomination in Bridesmaids in 2011, gets another strong contribution from McCarthy, who matches and complements Bullock insult by insult, embellishing the scripted narrative with extensive, skilled improvisation.
The tried-and-true screenplay by Katie Dippold, definitively formulaic but gender-bending as it is, benefits tremendously from sterling execution by director Feig and his two able leads. But it goes beyond the surface contours of an action comedy, even though it qualifies as one, by managing to remain relatively character-driven all the way through.
As for the film’s missteps and excesses -– overemphasized bursts of graphic violence, generically obligatory narrative clichés, characters verging on caricature, too much improvisatory indulgence -– well, this unique female version gets the same leeway that all those loose-as-a-goose male buddy-cop flicks have gotten down through the years.
So we’ll arrest 2½ stars out of 4. Welcome to the boys’ club, girls. Thanks for the yuks.
And in terms of R-rated mainstream franchise possibilities and the odds of there being at least one sequel, The Heat is on.