Movie review: ‘The Heat’ shakes up the buddy-cop formula
Review • McCarthy, Bullock get lots of laughs as feuding cops.
Published: June 28, 2013 12:11PM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:34PM
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This film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox shows Sandra Bullock as FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn, right, and Melissa McCarthy as Boston Detective Shannon Mullins in a scene from "The Heat." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Gemma La Mana)

The action comedy “The Heat” hilariously shows that if you change one thing, you change everything.

The structure of Katie Dippold’s script follows the buddy-cop movie factory specs to the letter: Two law officers from different jurisdictions who have widely divergent temperaments take an instant dislike to each other, but must join forces to solve a particularly difficult case — which they do, but only by bonding as friends first.

How is this different from “Rush Hour” or “Beverly Hills Cop” or a thousand imitators? Because the two cops are women. And that one difference gives “The Heat” a welcome new spin on the genre.

Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is a hard-charging FBI agent whose meticulous methods and arrogance solve cases but annoy her colleagues. Her boss (Demian Bichir), who’s about to be promoted and is considering Ashburn to replace him, sends her to Boston to track down a drug kingpin. There, she immediately meets and antagonizes Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), a combative and foul-mouthed Boston Police detective who’s working the same case.

Forced to work together, Ashburn and Mullins argue over interrogation methods and evidence procedures. But as the case gets deeper, and both women face resistance from their respective agencies and from a pair of irate DEA agents (Dan Bakkedahl and Taran Killam), they bond over their shared skills as crimefighters — and, in one montage, lots and lots of liquor.

Director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) knows what works best in this situation: Let McCarthy go full throttle and make sure everyone else can keep up with her. McCarthy, who got an Oscar nomination for “Bridesmaids,” repays Feig the favor by throwing herself fully into the part, whether crawling through car windows or shouting down criminals for the sake of a laugh.

Some of McCarthy’s best moments come when Mullins confronts her family, who have yet to forgive her for putting her brother Jason (Michael Rapoport) in prison. The family, including ex-Conehead Jane Curtin as her mom and Joey McIntyre (of New Kids on the Block) as another brother, are a raucous bunch and give McCarthy the chance to deliver her best drop-dead putdowns.

Bullock good-naturedly sacrifices her movie-star glamour to dig deep into Ashburn’s prickly personality and manages to get her fair share of laughs. She not only keeps up with the whirlwind that is McCarthy, but gives back as good as she gets.

“The Heat” cools off a bit when Dippold’s script has to contend with the dull mechanics of an actual crime plot, which suffers from the obviousness of the big villain reveal. (Hint: It’s the person you recognize from something else, but hasn’t been given anything to do yet.) By then, though, the laughs have been so plentiful that you forgive the film for putting Bullock and McCarthy through the standard buddy-cop conventions.

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‘The Heat’

Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, as an uptight FBI agent and an angry Boston cop, put a fresh spin on action-comedy conventions.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens today.

Rating • R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence.

Running time • 117 minutes.