Cloaked in the retro-stylistic graphics that defined the crime-fighting films of the ’70s and ’80s, the opening credits of The Heat are clearly meant to evoke the prestige of the infamous buddy-cop pairings born in films like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, Tango & Cash and the ever-important Turner & Hooch. It’s a boys-club genre that runs on unbridled masculinity and, to no one’s surprise, has never made way for women to get in on the action. Thankfully, that wrong has been corrected.

The Heat, the first ever female-fronted, buddy-cop film, brings together the incomparable team of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy for a no-expletives-barred, in-your-face action comedy that is so unapologetically crass and hilarious that it proves a not-so-delicate dash of femininity was exactly the jolt the genre needed.

When their pairing was first announced, many in Hollywood were skeptical over whether or not Bullock and McCarthy would actually have the spark needed to ignite on-screen chemistry, or if they were just two of the latest funny women blindly forced together because it seemed like a good idea. Thankfully, everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief because they are, in fact, a spectacular comedy duo — plus, you’re going to need your lung strength for the laugh riot that ensues.

In her first comedic role since winning an Oscar in 2010 for The Blind Side, Bullock sticks close to her proven Miss Congeniality comfort zone as Sarah Ashburn, a by-the-book New York City FBI agent taught to loosen up and throw away the manual in the line of duty. Yale-educated yet socially illiterate, her showmanship arrogance makes her a turnoff to co-workers and potential dates alike. She is awkwardly stiff, making her the perfect foil for her new partner, Boston Detective Shannon Mullins. Not afraid to pull suspects out of car windows, take them down with watermelons or emasculate her boss in front of the entire department, Mullins is foul-mouthed, tomboyish and abrasive beyond belief (not a far cry from her breakout, Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids role). Like Ashburn, people take detours to avoid crossing her path, leaving both women with lonely lives outside of the office.

Reluctantly partnered together (as all buddy comedies begin), Ashburn and Mullins are tasked with hunting down a drug lord funneling his product through Boston’s network of small-time dealers. Standing in their way are misogynist preconceptions and co-workers (using words like “hormones,” “emotions,” and the blanket term “you people” to try and justify female incompetence). Their own, equally matched, egotistical belief that they are the best in the business doesn’t help either. Naturally, their disdain for each other dissipates over time (and from a drunken night of bonding), leading to an alliance in the fight for drug-free streets — general buddy-cop stuff.

The laughs come at a surprisingly steady pace (never succumbing to the dreaded third-act slump from which many comedies suffer) and play as a lightning-fast improv kind of funny — something McCarthy knows well, but Bullock, despite being a comedy ace, is less versed in. Nevertheless, she holds her own alongside McCarthy’s brazen, no-filter mouth, as the two fire off insult bullets at one another (and those around them) with more accuracy than most of the high-powered artillery stocked in Mullins’ refrigerator/armory. The comedy is, no doubt, aided by the fact that Ashburn and Mullins’ rough-around-the-edges relationship is the film’s heart and soul. Everything else is irrelevant. Whether our heroes are searching a busted-down warehouse with guns drawn or crammed into a police interrogation room, the audience could care less about what is happening to the ambiguous bad guys when it’s hard to pry your eyes away from Bullock and McCarthy’s electric chemistry. We want to see these mismatched cops learn to overcome their differences and become the butt-kicking, bad-guy-thrashing “heat” we know they can be.

Just as important as the chemistry and laughs delivered by Bullock and McCarthy is the direction of Paul Feig, coming off his massive directorial debut, Bridesmaids. Feig has a keen eye for the organic progression of female relationships (illustrated in the aforementioned) and he wisely establishes Ashburn and Mullins on their own turf before pushing their big egos together. Consequently, the women are shown as two separate characters, complete with their own foundations and problems, before each becomes one half of a partnership. Aided by writer Katie Dippold’s clever script (though it does have an admittedly hard time bobbing and weaving clichéd buddy-cop fare), Feig constructs a dynamic film that transcends the simple notion of the enemies-turned-friends genre it hopes to join. It would be easy for Feig and Dippold to have their characters’ troubles arise from the man’s world they live in, but that would be a disservice to them. It’s made clear that Ashburn and Mullins’ similar isolation is partly the result of their own standoffish attitudes. They have deep-seeded issues — Ashburn was a foster kid with a turbulent childhood and Mullins has a family that blames her for arresting her drug-addled brother — which extend their scope from tough chicks in a tough job to women with emotional depth and an endearing amount of growing still to be done. Thus, they don’t just resolve their issues because we know they will, but because they understand the shared plight of being alone and damaged. It’s a narrative move that makes the women’s story distinctive in the cut-and-dry genre, develops their characters into affectionate and relatable people, and makes every joke and emotional moment genuine and well-deserved. And it makes the laughing pains well worth it too.

In the end, it’s blatantly obvious that The Heat was never meant to be anything more than Bullock and McCarthy’s show. Its drug-centric story is contrived and its supporting characters aren’t mentioned here because they could be mute and still do just as much. But who cares. Bullock and McCarthy have broken down the police station walls that housed the revered buddy-cop genre for so long and they did so with a shameless dedication to do whatever it takes to earn their stay. 2013’s remaining comedies better watch out: The Heat is the funniest comedy of the year, and its burn likely won’t subside anytime soon.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

“The Heat” opened nationwide on June 28, 2013.

Trailer Courtesy of TheHeatMovie/Twentieth Century Fox.

Featured image: Sandra Bullock stars as FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn and Melissa McCarthy stars as Boston Detective Shannon Mullins in the action-comedy, “The Heat.” Photo Credit: Gemma La Mana. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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