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By FEMI ABORISADE
Director Paul Feig, who directed the hilarious 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids,” is not done bringing female-driven comedy to American audiences. “The Heat,” his latest comedy starring Sandra Bullock and second-time collaborator Melissa McCarthy, places women into the buddy cop genre, a simple yet daring use of the trope that has somehow slipped past many executive’s grasps.
In fact, excusing “Fargo,” which portrays Frances McDormand in a major role as a Minnesota police chief, “The Heat” may have begun a new subgenre, and the film’s consistent stream of jokes and intense situations makes it a great candidate.
Having Bullock and McCarthy at the helm also sweetens the deal. Bullock plays FBI Agent Sarah Ashburn, a book-smart officer of the law with many accolades but a cold personality that keeps her isolated. Taking up an unfinished case to win a promotion, she drives to Boston and begins working with McCarthy’s character, Officer Shannon Mullins, who has half the smarts but more than enough brute force to compensate. Bullock basically fills the straight-laced role without any personal touches, but that is hardly needed since McCarthy fires on all cylinders, pulling off lengthy bits, physical comedy and subtle asides as if she has lived in that character’s shoes for ages.
The film’s early goings do suffer, though; Bullock has an interesting contempt for K-9 dogs that earns a few laughs, but other than that she seldom pushes her role, a detriment to both the role and her previously noted comedy chops. That plateau of “ugh, whatever,” soon dissipates when McCarthy and Bullocks fight among themselves or against the baddies in “The Heat’s” later scenes.
On a greater note, Feig’s directing and writer Katie Dippold’s script gracefully keeps these women naturally focused on their jobs while also giving the audience a taste of their personal lives. This matters most due to how shallow and wooden female characters usually end up portrayed in films, so much so that The Bechdel Test, a half-serious guideline that judges films based on how many scenes feature two women talking about a man offscreen, was created.
What makes “The Heat” so profound in that regard is that Bullock and McCarthy’s character’s are career-driven individuals who deal with men of ill repute on a daily basis and treat them as such. When they do talk about themselves, it still develops in a relatable fashion that works within the mindset of these characters, such as comments about Ashburn’s know-it-all personality or Mullin’s raunchy speech and not about who wears the best makeup. They do not cat-fight or pretend to befriend each other; they face off and state their feelings without an ounce of deceit, although hilariously.
“The Heat” does not have smart comedy and nor does it profess to, but it has two of Hollywood’s most current stars – one an accomplished actress and the other a rapidly rising talent – tackling a well-worn formula and making it worthwhile.