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Review: 'The Heat' lights up with new buddy-cop twist

The Heat (movie)Melissa McCarthyMoviesSandra BullockFBIGenres

"The Heat," starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, is the latest entry in a long-running and much-loved movie joke: the buddy-cop comedy. In this case, a bosom-buddy cop comedy.

The movie follows a well-beaten path. They're cops, they're enemies, they're friends, they're opposites. It's funny.

The legacy is a long one: "Beverly Hills Cop," "Tango & Cash," "Starsky & Hutch," "48 Hrs.," "Men in Black," "Turner & Hooch," "Miami Vice." Basically it's a man's world.

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But as director Paul Feig, screenwriter Katie Dippold and the caustic, crackling chemistry of its stars prove, "The Heat" would be nothing, nothing without a woman.

Really one cannot over-emphasize the role that bosoms play, literally and metaphorically. They are talked about, pushed around, prodded, insulted, dressed up, dressed down. They're like another character. Occasionally, they come in handy. And they remind us "The Heat" is not buddy-cop business as usual.

Bullock and McCarthy, as Ashburn and Mullins, are from different agencies — Ashburn's New York City-based FBI, Mullins' Boston PD. One's a Yale grad, the other street-smart. They have different investigation techniques and different interrogation styles. Guess which one plays bad cop?

A string of dicey unsolved Boston murders has thrown them unhappily together. As Mullins says during their first face to face, "I've just spent the last 30 minutes thinking of ways to kill you."

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Bickering, bonding, bad guys and a lot of very bad language, mostly from McCarthy's Mullins, will ensue.

That the movie manages to be funny without feeling misogynistic is in part because of Dippold wielding the pen. And not because she's a she. Dippold has been writing comedy for a while now, starting in 2006 on Fox's underrated "MADtv" and moving over to handle punch lines for Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones and others on the NBC show "Parks and Recreation."

Meanwhile, Feig, with the mega-hit "Bridesmaids" to his credit, has found a healthy balance between the raunchy and the real. The groundbreaking hard-R comedy in 2011 proved women could talk as dirty as guys but, more important, be as funny. It also established "Saturday Night Live" standout Kristen Wiig as a movie star and McCarthy as a comic force. Rex Reed insults and extra pounds be damned, the actress is even better in "The Heat."

McCarthy and Bullock are an odd and oddly likable team. Both actresses are fearless with physical comedy. Bullock specializes in awkward and uptight, McCarthy in aggressive and unfiltered. "The Heat" makes the most of those differences.

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A particularly tight doorway pits them against each other, but more often there is a guy about to find out that big — as in big gun or big muscles or big wad of cash — does not guarantee much of anything.

For those worried that the essential action of the genre may have softened with chicks in the pic, know that "The Heat" is down-and-dirty tough with all the gun brandishing, foot races, car chases and bruising confrontations with the criminal element an action fan could want.

The rough sits surprisingly well with the more sentimental emotional arc Ashburn and Mullins are given. McCarthy's character in particular is allowed nuance, and that is a nice thing.

Nice, however, is not where you go first.

Our introduction to FBI agent Ashburn is a smug smile while brown-nosing the boss (Demian Bichir). Soon she's solving a case and taking great satisfaction in humiliating the rest of the FBI team. She's got a closet full of monochrome suits that complement her monotone life. Her pajamas are pressed, the cat she pets belongs to a neighbor, and there is no family to speak of.

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Mullins is a foul-mouthed detective good at catching bad guys but not much else. Her captain fears her, and not long into "The Heat" you understand why. Her family hasn't forgiven her for throwing brother Jason (Michael Rapaport) in jail — that's the relationship to watch. Her fashion sensibility leans toward thrift store, not chic, more like dollar bin. When we meet her, Mullins has spotted a john amid a proposition. Suffice it to say she is armed and dangerous with or without a gun.

The villain is an elusive drug lord named Larkin. His brutality is legendary, his face a mystery. It's a good twist but means the filmmakers have to throw in some other faces for us to hate in the meantime.

There is DEA agent Craig (Dan Bakkedahl), a crude albino-chauvinist, and his sycophant sidekick (Taran Killam). The DEA investigation is at odds with theirs, and agent Craig is out to shut them down. Mullins' favorite perp is a possible Larkin street dealer named Rojas (a funny Spoken Reasons). Also in Larkin's circle is the very scary, very good with knives Julian (Michael McDonald).

But mostly this is Mullins and Ashburn's run-and-gun show. At times "The Heat" gets messy, and the comedy is not always pitch perfect. But they're cops. They're enemies. They're friends. They're opposites. It's funny.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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'The Heat'

MPAA rating: R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Playing: In general release

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The Heat (movie)Melissa McCarthyMoviesSandra BullockFBIGenres
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