While an R-rated cop comedy might seem like a curious choice for director Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy's follow-up to "Bridesmaids," joining forces with Sandra Bullock definitely isn't. And as Special Agent Ashburn and Detective Mullins, Bullock and McCarthy prove to be a pretty formidable comedy duo.
In "The Heat," after the no-nonsense Ashburn (Bullock) is denied a promotion because none of her coworkers can stand her (including the K-9 unit), she's sent to Boston to break up a major drug ring. Of course, that means partnering with the local law enforcement (McCarthy), which turns out to be an even bigger challenge.
So with everything it has going for it, why does "The Heat" end up uneven? To figure it out, I took a page from Ashburn and Mullins and played good cop/bad cop with the movie.
Good Cop: Pair an uptight, by-the-book FBI agent with a foul-mouthed, loose cannon police officer, and you've got a classic buddy cop setup. Make them both women, though, and suddenly it's a major twist. Or at least, that's what it seems like with "The Heat" being billed as the second coming of "Bridesmaids." Thanks to Feig and writer Katie Dippold, the odd couple pair of Ashburn and Mullins aren't simply defined by their gender. They're compelling characters first, women second.
Bad Cop: With all the buddy cop movies out there, it's about time women got to join in on the fun. But without offering any further tweaks to the familiar subgenre, like the self-aware cliché riffing of last summer's "21 Jump Street," the film's premise starts to feel just as stale as past iterations.
Good Cop: As he showed with "Bridesmaids" and in his TV days before that, Feig is adept at balancing ensemble comedy casts, and knowing when to encourage improv. That he's clearly more comfortable staging the offbeat comic riffing than the big action set pieces is no surprise. It's also not a detriment, since no one's expecting "Bad Boys"-style carnage from the trio.
Bad Cop: Feig isn't as sure-footed when it comes to pacing, a problem that's obvious even from the '70s-style opening credit sequence, a low-octane intro that the movie takes a few minutes to recover from. As an R-rated action/comedy, you'd figure "The Heat" would keep things fast-paced and relatively light. Instead, it lurches from laughs to shootouts, while the subgenre's better efforts balance the comedic back-and-forth and action movie elements more effectively.
Good Cop: Melissa McCarthy graduates from scene-stealing in "Bridesmaids" to stealing an entire movie in 'The Heat," which is essentially a feature-length showcase for the comedian's talents. Feig wisely unleashes McCarthy, giving her free reign here, and she's mastered the verbal takedown as the crass, filter-less Mullins. Bullock holds her own as a comic foil, but whenever McCarthy's off-screen, both the movie and audience seem to just be killing time until she comes back.
Bad Cop: Aside from McCarthy and Bullock, everyone else is relatively inconsequential. Demián Bichir is essentially just a cliché with an accent as Ashburn's stern FBI boss, and Marlon Wayans' Agent Levy is so underwritten he barely registers. Mullins' bickering family displays the most promise, at least until they devolve into lame stereotyping. Boston accent jokes aren't exactly groundbreaking comedic territory these days.
Good Cop: For the most part, the humor in "The Heat" stays character-based, in order to showcase the movie's strongest selling point: the chemistry between McCarthy and Bullock. With "Parks and Recreation" on her resume and a sketch comedy background, Dippold writes in ample opportunity for exactly the kind of endless bickering that makes these buddy cop movies run.
Bad Cop: The problem is bringing the two together for these moments, and getting Ashburn and Mullins partnered up, feels about as forced as Ashburn's mid-movie revelation about her childhood. The main drug bust plot, meanwhile, doesn't offer much more than the usual rehash of boilerplate cop movie clichés, right down to the department mole and warehouse shootout. It's enough to make you wish the two had been assigned to a different case.
Good Cop: As a follow-up to "Bridesmaids" -- in spirit, at least -- "The Heat" makes for a mostly enjoyable summer comedy. Sure, it's stretched a little thin at almost two hours, but the reliable laughs and the appeal of watching McCarthy go to work carry it through the few rough patches.
Bad Cop: By surrounding its two leads with a more compelling plot or tighter pacing, "The Heat" could've been something special instead of an uneven, fitfully funny comedy. There are glimpses of potential, but the movie never quite translates that into the surefire crowd-pleaser it initially seems to be.
"The Heat" opens in theatres on June 28.