AT THE MOVIES - 'The Heat' brings refreshing female comedic chemistry

AT THE MOVIES - 'The Heat' brings refreshing female comedic chemistry

*** "The Heat"

Though Paul Feig's middling buddy cop caper "The Heat" lacks relentless, franchise-breeding humor, the pairing of two likable female leads in a shopworn sub-genre adds an insta-boost of credibility to the comedy. As Sandra Bullock plays it straight and slapsticky, Melissa McCarthy keeps it coarse and cruddy, working their strengths as seasoned comedic contradictions. The high-demand leading ladies don't necessarily break new ground here, but they do make for an engaging pair, maintaining their easy chemistry while dancing around formulaic tropes in the narrative. As hackneyed and forgettable as the script may be, Bullock and McCarthy successfully summon the spirit of "Lethal Weapon," and offer a much-needed dose of female power to a male-dominated brand.

Bullock stars as Sarah Ashburn, a lonely, know-it-all FBI agent lacking a team player attitude. In order to remedy her arrogance, Sarah's shipped off to Boston to take down a powerful drug lord with the help of a partner, rumpled and easily ruffled police officer Shannon Mullins (McCarthy). Naturally, the two discordant personalities butt heads, bickering over interrogation tactics, wardrobe choices, and the order in which they enter a room. Details are fruitless, as the movie prances around our heroines' colorful disparity, the benchmark of every great buddy cop flick (and most comedies, really). Our shameless stars work with what they have and are given the freedom to riff well beyond mediocrity, thankfully smothering plot points with a persistent back-and-forth.

Like Feig's previous 2011 hit "Bridesmaids" (McCarthy's big screen breakout) "The Heat" offers an open landscape for its stars, its execution loose and sometimes lumbering. Female camaraderie powers the narrative - the film is at its strongest when Ashburn and Mullins go on a messy bender, and its weakest when the two are solo during character-defining, trailer-marked sequences. However, forced male secondary characters barely register (an issue in "Bridesmaids," as well) and even the glorious Jane Curtin (as Mullins' equally cheeky mom) is woefully underused. The R-rating rears a barrage of unnecessary f-bombs and semi-violent sequences, offering an easy expulsion of cheap laughs while fulfilling the action quota necessary for a briskly paced, police-helmed movie. Still, our director understands a comedian's impulse to experiment with delivery while reshaping a scene, and this freedom helps to fuel Bullock and McCarthy's chemistry, and aids in cultivating unexpected punchlines, predominantly on McCarthy's end.

And much like this year's Jason Bateman/McCarthy joint-effort comedy "Identity Thief," the loose cannon often overshadows the straight man, as Bullock plays a soft second fiddle to McCarthy's butch and brazen cop. From the frumpy-dump wardrobe, to the expletive laden grunts, McCarthy is at her most brash here, and depending on your tolerance level for boisterous brassiness, her performance is make or break. Bullock is her typical wound-up self, appealing and apparently game for anything, even poking fun at body consciousness while standing pantsless in shapewear in a public bathroom. The two work marvelously together, keeping the screen-chewing down to a minimum in order to ensure the dynamic of their connection.

Without that connection, the buddy chunk of the equation stands as moot, flushing a paltry script deeper into the bowels of blah (see 2010's "Cop Out" for an example of a monumental buddy-cop catastrophe). While it's not the first time two lady cops joined forces on screen, in a modern cinematic landscape of frat packs, bro-mances, and Apatow-weaned troupes, it's refreshing to see a pair of powerful ladies dominate the competition. "The Heat" may not be as raucous as it thinks it is, but it's certainly as entitled.

Now playing at CinemaWorld, Lincoln, 622 George Washington Highway, 401-333-8676, www.cinemaworldonline.com .