When Bridesmaids shocked Hollywood in 2011 with a global take of $288 million and a pair of Oscar-nominations for the script co-penned by SNL veteran Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Potty-mouthed, low-brow, R-rated comedies had always been thought of a boys-only club so for women to succeed in the genre raised the question of whether it was a one-off fluke or a untapped market. The first real test of this will be The Heat which reunites Bridesmaids director (and Freaks & Geeks creator) Paul Feig and McCarthy, adding Sandra Bullock to the mix to gender-swap the well-worn buddy cop comedy formula. Can comic gold (and box office loot) be found by having girls get wild again? In this case, it just might.
The trailer sets the bar pretty low as it appears Bullock is revisiting her Miss Congeniality character as an FBI Agent who isn't respected by the boys despite her investigative chops. She doesn't have a man, practically steals her neighbor's cat for companionship, and hungers for a supervisory position promotion. Sent to Boston to work a big narcotics trafficking, she meets not-cute with local Detective McCarthy, one of those noisy loose cannon types whom we just have to accept managed to stay employed and promoted to Detective despite their obnoxious personality. (This is apparently not a documentary.) Will these two cops with their clashing styles and personalities be able to get along and crack the case while cracking heads and also cracking up audiences?
Pretty much every beat of The Heat follows the Odd Couple Buddy Cop Flick playbook that animates these things dating back to 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon, so it comes down to execution to make it sink or swim and for the most part it swims, uh, swimmingly. That the script is by Parks and Recreation writer Katie Dippold provides a little insulation from criticism that what Bullock and McCarthy do is degrading to professional women, but let's be honest, when's the last time you ever heard anyone worrying about whether male cops are harmed by being fooled by a banana in the tailpipe.
As with Bridesmaids, the secret weapon is McCarthy who is utterly without vanity as she spews a torrent of F-bombs, though they manage to make her unmistakably, ummmmm...let's say zaftig figure not the cheap and easy (and offensive) gag it could've been by giving her a running gag involving spurned lovers. She's a force of nature and Bullock gamely plays the straight man (you know what I mean), but gets a few licks in. Everyone's got a mushy center and learns something in the end. You know the drill. It's just that we've seen Bullock play the "attractive woman who doesn't know she's attractive" part so many times I coined the term "Sandra Bullock Syndrome" to describe any female character played by an actress that would rate an 8 or higher on the looks scale.
With so much that is familiar in the formula, it almost seems charitable to recommend it because all they've really done to freshen it up is put women in the leads. If this was made in 1996 with Tom Hanks and Chris Farley as a retread of Turner & Hooch with Farley as the slobbering dog, would it have be notable? More damningly, would it have been as funny with someone like Kristen Wiig instead of McCarthy? Does aggressive comedy require someone of a certain size whether it be a John Belushi and Chris Farley or a McCarthy and Rebel Wilson? (Ugh, political correctness isn't very amusing to ponder.)
So The Heat is just the same old formula with a flavor we haven't seen before? Is that enough? Sure, why not because despite the familiarity of format, it delivers the funny in sufficient quantities to merit watching. (There's a quote you won't be seeing on the DVD box!) I laughed a lot and I think you will too. The studio must be expecting great things because The Heat 2 is supposedly already in the works which means the downside of successful buddy cop comedies - the unneeded sequels (does anyone remember Another 48 Hours or the sequels to Beverly Hills Cop?) - will be coming too. Why should the ladies be exempt from that?
One warning: The violence isn't too bad, but it's a little more graphic than you'd expect from a comedy starring women. If you watch The Walking Dead, it's not anything that bad, but just a warning; a heads up about the head shots.
Score: 7.5/10. Catch a matinee.
NOTE: This opens June 28, 2013. The trailer says April. Also, several of the gags are different in the movie