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In ‘The Heat,’ McCarthy, Bullock deploy gags as lethal weapons

‘THE HEAT’ ★★★½

Ashburn Sandra Bullock

Mullins Melissa McCarthy

Hale Demian Bichir

Levy Marlon Wayans

Jason Mullins Michael Rapaport

Mrs. Mullins Jane Curtin

Capt. Woods Tom Wilson

20th Century-Fox presents a film directed by Paul Feig. Written by Katie Dippold. Rated R (for pervasive language, strong, crude content and some violence). Running time: 117 minutes. Opening Friday at local theaters.

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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:04AM



“You look like one of the Campbell Soup kids who grew up and became an alcoholic.”

Evil henchman insulting Melissa McCarthy’s Boston copper in “The Heat.”

All right, so maybe an evil henchman wouldn’t be that quick on the verbal draw — but come on, that’s pretty good. Wicked and mean, but you’re laughing as you cringe.

Not that Melissa McCarthy’s a punching bag in “The Heat.” As a tough-talking, bruise-knuckled Boston cop named Mullins, she lands far more blows than she sustains, whether she’s insulting her boss, knocking heads, making arrests or mixing it up with Sandra Bullock’s uptight FBI agent.

At least a half-dozen times McCarthy delivers a punchline so perfect, so sharp, so out-of-left-field funny, I was laughing deep into the next scene.

McCarthy’s not just good in this movie. She’s friggin’ great.

And Sandra Bullock’s right there with her.

Here’s hoping McCarthy and Bullock are interested in exploring the franchise possibilities of this pairing because “The Heat” is in the same league as the first “Lethal Weapon” and the first “48 HRS” as a cop-buddy movie that delivers bountiful laughs, terrific action and a couple of authentically earned dramatic moments in an R-rated, semi-plausible setting.

The actors in this kind of movie almost never get nominated for awards higher than the level of an MTV box of golden popcorn or maybe a Golden Globe, but McCarthy deserves that and more. She hits a home run in a role that allows her to jam within her comfort zone but also gives her the opportunity to expand her range — and she’s up to every challenge.

As Ashburn, Bullock is an uptight, conservative, fortysomething FBI hotshot with a personal life so sad, even her cat isn’t her cat — it’s the neighbor’s. Mullins is a crude, rude and lewd (but caring) Boston police street detective with a large, loud, vulgar family who includes a brother with a dog named “Kevin GAH-nett” and a father who loves his painting of Jesus hitting a heavenly home run in Fenway Park. (When one of Mullins’ brothers asks Ashburn if she’s a “NOCK,” it takes a very long time for her to figure out he’s saying “narc.”)

Against both of their wishes, Ashburn and Mullins have to team up to track down a nefarious, mysterious drug lord who’s piling up the body count as he poisons Boston’s neighborhoods. Of course they can’t stand each other at first. Of course that’ll probably change after they find a common enemy, learn some deep truths about each other, get hammered in a fantastically seedy bar and take turns saving each other’s life.

They’re opposites. Mullins considers turning her shirt inside out a wardrobe change. She cusses like, well, a Boston cop. Ashburn is so buttoned-up in her FBI pantsuits, Mullins’ family has genuine questions about whether she started out life as a male. And when Ashburn finally lets loose with the expletives, she gets every inch of it spectacularly wrong. This is just the beginning of their differences; as their relationship evolves, however, and they go from bringing out the worst in each other to bringing out the absolute best, we buy into it.

The casting in “The Heat” is simply inspired. Just some of the highlights: Tom Wilson (you know him as Biff Tannen in the “Back to the Future” movies) as Mullins’ emasculated boss; Demian Bichir (Oscar nominee for “A Better Life”) as Ashburn’s boss, whose accent leads Mullins to crown him as “Puss ’n’ Boots”; Marlon Wayans as a likable FBI agent with a thing for Ashburn; Jane Curtin as Mullins’ mom; familiar faces from “The Office” and “Arrested Development,” and yes, that’s Joey McIntyre as one of Mullins’ brothers.

When we think about the great buddy-cop action-comedy duos of the last 30 years, it’s not about the storyline, which usually includes a mismatched pair who start off hating each other before they forge an unbreakable bond, a supervisor whose main job is to tell the rogue detectives they’re off the case, a ruthless drug lord who kills anything that gets in his way, sadistic henchmen who talk too much when they have the chance to kill the good guys, and gunplay in a warehouse. Near the docks.

That’s all standard stuff, and “The Heat” never misses an opportunity to indulge in a buddy-movie plot cliché. What really matters is that elusive chemistry between the two leads: the kind of rapport that seems effortless but requires exquisite comedic timing, generous scene-sharing and easily pulling off a dramatic scene or two.

On paper (and in the ads), “The Heat” looks like a high-concept pitch: a cop buddy movie, only the buddies are — wait for it — dames! The good news is this Bullock-McCarthy vehicle clicks on all cylinders. Thanks to standout performances from the enormously appealing leads, excellent work from the supporting cast, a smart and brilliantly funny script by Katie Dippold (one suspects Ms. McCarthy may have ad-libbed a take or two) and nimble direction from Paul Feig, this is one of the most entertaining movies of the year.



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