The path of the buddy cop genre is one of the most successfully trod in mainstream Hollywood. With the heights of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard (Yes, thanks to the relationship between McClane and donut denier Al Powell, I would argue Die Hard has as strong a vein of Buddy Cop as it does Christmas Classic in its DNA!), as well as Miami Vice on the small screen, during the 1980’s, something of a golden era.

The Heat

The Heat

The subgenre still rears it’s head today, with the most interesting example being Shane Black’s complex and pitch perfect noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, built around an odd couple buddy cop scenario that played with sexuality and attitude.

However, male characters, a male point of view and patriarchal issues, reflecting its key audience, have often dominated this particular niche of cinema. Paul Feig’s The Heat is a female Buddy Cop film that like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is full of attitude but unlike the former, fails to truly deliver as witty a pastiche or engaging a faithful cop thriller.

First and foremost, Melissa McCarthy dominates this film. Everything good about the film involves her, and her incredible comic performance. Playing the enthusiastic and tough Boston cop Mullins, the explosive wild one to Sandra Bullock’s straight (wo)man, the repressed flawed super agent Ashburn; she electrifies the film.

Almost every moment she spends on screen, she is able to move the audience, either as a result of her comic timing, crude language or, most impressively, the ability to bring pathos and vulnerability to a character that could have simply been boorish and quite frankly offensive. Instead she is a triumph; a fully developed heroine who takes the film on her shoulders and brings the laughs.

Of course, opposite such a volatile force of nature like McCarthy, Sandra Bullock was always going to have to work very hard. Her relationship, and instant chemistry, with McCarthy is the centre of the film, and thanks to the sheer contrast between them (a classic trope of the subgenre), great moments of comedy are produced. This is particularly evident in an extended montage that tracks the disintegration of their first ‘girls’ night out in a rough Boston bar, that descends into drunken debauchery, childish humour and fantastic physical pratfalls.

However, overall, Bullock’s character of Ashburn isn’t as affective a figure, and at worst, simply a rehash of her tough but misunderstood FBI character from Miss Congeniality. The blame shouldn’t entirely be placed at Bullock’s feet though, because while she doesn’t deliver an outstanding performance, it is the narrative she is built into that is the problem.

This is the fundamental flaw with an otherwise riotous comedy: The central narrative itself, away from McCarthy’s grandstand performance and the buddy cop relationship, the mystery of the drug dealing overload is bland, formulaic and ultimately, pointless.

The narrative tries to play with the classic cop thriller beats, but it just comes off as a sort of slapdash paint by numbers version of a cop thriller; and even worse, apart from the central female figures, no other character is given any degree of real depth.

Even as the film is developing, it is difficult to care for the situation or sense any danger; as revelations are made and plot points clumsily clunked down, It is abundantly clear that this narrative is a mere dressing for the girls to work around…and that hurts the film. Not enough to blunt the overall humour, but more than enough to keep it out of the best comedies of recent years.

Visually, Feig does a great job at translating the contrast between Ashburn and Mullin’s differing worlds. Presenting Ashburn’s world as sterile and over organized; all straight lines, simple blocks of muted colours, that reflect how her home, and even herself, are a defined extension of the banal FBI buildings she inhabits: all function, no personality.

While Mullins is surrounded by chaos and disorder, reflecting the Boston streets she hunts on, which despite being perhaps overly clichéd, capture the heightened comedic tone. A deft touch that adds depth and personality that the narrative and secondary characters sourly miss.

An enjoyable comedy lifted by another dominating performance by Melissa McCarthy; it isn’t perfect, and the narrative doesn’t prove to be strong enough on it’s own, but purely on the merits of it’s overall tone and consistent comedy, this female driven buddy cop comedy is a fun night out that delivers guaranteed laughs

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk