Bullock, McCarthy bring The Heat

The stars are appealing, but Paul Feig’s follow-up to Bridesmaids is startlingly average.

Ah, the Buddy Cop movie. A Hollywood staple for decades. Wikipedia credits Kurosawa’s 1949 flick Stray Dogs as the template, but that’s awfully highbrow for a class of movies best known for their copious amounts of profanity and violence, both often played for laughs. The 1980s were sort of the Golden Age of the Buddy Cop flick — 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon are the high-watermarks for me — but much like the Western and the Musical, the genre has faded a bit in recent years. (The Other Guys and Cop Out being notable recent exceptions.)

Enter Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and breakout star Melissa McCarthy, who along with Sandra Bullock attempt to apply the same gender-bending magic to The Heat. Fans of the Buddy Cop genre will recognize the set up: Bullock plays Ashburn, a by-the-book F.B.I. special agent with a stick up her ass, who gets unwillingly partnered with Mullins (McCarthy), a crass, foul-mouthed, definitely not by-the-book local cop, as the pair hunt a drug kingpin in Boston. Yes, that's a beaten to death setup, but The Heat is nothing if not slavishly devoted to the strictures of its formula.

What interests me most, however, is that The Heat is more likely to elicit comparison to Bridesmaids — a movie without which it would not exist — than to similar genre pictures. Is Feig now on the cutting edge of what I assume is a growing movement to take male-dominated genres and swaps in the ladies? If so, the thought process behind it completely misses why Bridesmaids was terrific. It was never the genitalia of the stars that made that film work; it was the hilarious script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. The Heat pulls the same gender flip-flop as Bridesmaids, but the movie itself just isn’t as good. In fairness, not many are.

Judging The Heat on its own terms, what you’ve got is a by-the-numbers cop movie with likeable stars, some genuinely funny dialogue and lame action. (The movie’s idea of an action sequence is having someone pull a gun on another person who has already pulled a gun on someone else. Hold on tight, people.) I enjoyed it, but it’s startlingly average —something that has very little to do with the gender of the stars.

On the contrary, it’s the stars that elevate this middling material into something worth seeing. Both McCarthy and Bullock are typecast, which is a shame — The Heat would be twice as interesting if they cast Bullock as the bull and McCarthy as the priss — but they are both good enough that you forgive the movie its laziness. McCarthy in particular is a riot in a role that suits her much better than the horror show she played in Identity Thief. In addition to Bullock and McCarthy, the supporting cast is appealing and funny, and that includes the dudes who end up with most of the quality bit parts. My favorites include Thomas F. Wilson (aka Biff Tannen) as Mullins’ long-suffering captain, Marlon Wayons as an F.B.I. agent with an obvious crush, and Dan Bakkedahl as an albino cop who provides many of the movies best (and most inappropriate) laughs.

I suppose the goal here was to produce a movie that both men and women would want to see, thereby guaranteeing a large opening weekend gross at the box office. In that the filmmakers will most likely succeeded, but they’re insulting their audience. I wish that talented filmmakers like Paul Feig, and likable performers like Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock would focus less on gender politics and more on making the best movies they can possibly make. Because the future isn’t about boy movies or girl movies — it’s about good movies. Always has been, always will be.