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'The Heat' review: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy in buddy cop comedy

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Director: Paul Feig; Screenwriter Katie Dippold; Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport; Running time: 117 mins; Certificate: 15


Forget passing the Bechdel Test: Paul Feig's follow-up to Bridesmaids is way beyond that. The test requires that two women talk to each other about something other than a man, but you'd be hard pushed to find a scene in which Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy's mismatched cop duo do talk to each other about a man. They're so busy butting heads over their crime-fighting styles - Bullock's FBI agent is by-the-book, McCarthy's Boston cop is the wild card - that the Y chromosome doesn't get a look in.

There's no particular reason why this should be revolutionary, except that it has generally been a truth universally acknowledged in movies that a single woman's happy ending must involve a romantic resolution. Bridesmaids is rightly hailed as a turning point for women in comedy, but it still centred on the familiar territory of wedding woes and concluded with Kristen Wiig's neurotic lead walking off into the sunset with Chris O'Dowd.

The Heat, Sandra Bullock
Here (not unlike in Edgar Wright's similarly themed Hot Fuzz, where a love interest was written out of the final script to allow more room for the bromance) the focus is entirely on the central odd couple of Bullock and McCarthy, who spark up a spiky, near-faultless comedic chemistry.

And it's just as well, because beat-for-beat The Heat is about as predictable as it gets. If you were asked to lay out the crucial story points of a buddy-cop comedy - the initial rift, the drunken bonding moment, the third-act betrayal - you'd end up with something very much like the skeleton of Kate Dippold's screenplay. But Dippold's got form with scrappy, character-focused comedy having worked on Parks and Recreation since 2009, and her script is richer and infinitely funnier than the outline suggests.

The first 15 minutes are shaky; Bullock's Sarah Ashburn enters on a sub-Sherlock Holmes deduction scene that doesn't quite click, while McCarthy's introductory chase sequence with a creepy Tony Hale is so broad that it's hard to imagine tolerating this character for long. But once Feig gets the two together, you immediately feel you're in safe hands and both actors rapidly move beyond the killjoy/loose cannon archetypes to create characters that you like and root for.

The Heat doesn't reinvent any wheels, beyond casting women in traditionally macho genre roles, and a touch more discipline could have gone a long way in the edit. But it's a genuinely funny, worthy successor to Bridesmaids, solidifying McCarthy as a rare comedic talent and potentially laying the way for more left-field lady-led comedy.

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