Film review: The Heat - Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play gauche cop, crazed cop in this odd-couple comedy


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The Independent Culture

The movie star is dead: that's the recurring lament currently gaining credence once more this summer following a string of flops from supposed A-listers such as Will Smith, Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum. Flying in the face of such a prognosis, however, comes The Heat, a hit blockbuster in the US whose appeal derives from nothing so much as its lead duo's scorching screen presence.

A female take on that hitherto testosterone-jacked genre, the Lethal Weapon-esque buddy cop comedy, it also helps to confirm recent astonishing reports, provoked by director Paul Feig's previous film, Bridesmaids, that women can be funny. Who knew? Sandra Bullock takes on the Danny Glover role of the uptight senior, aka FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, an officious, hyper-loner whose chances of promotion are stymied by her fractious relationship with her colleagues. Meanwhile Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids' scene-stealer, is the Mel Gibson-style (in the very loosest sense) wild one, a formidably salty Boston beat cop who shows even less team spirit when Ashburn is flown in to partner her on a big-time drugs ring bust.

What follows, as you'd expect from a genre exercise, is in many ways predictable: a battle of wills that dissolves into odd-couple friendship via emotive backstories and a drunken dancing montage sequence. The notional thriller plot is a bit of an afterthought. And scriptwriter Katie Dippold, who also works on the superlative sitcom Parks and Recreation, could have done with slotting in a few sharper one-liners among all the enjoyable profanity. (I won't deny I'm still enjoying the line "I'm balls deep in boredom here").

But, both exceptional comedians, Bullock and especially McCarthy make the very best of the material. Which is to say that they strike the balance between caricature and naturalism, matching broad physical gestures – see Bullock's perma-squint versus McCarthy's perma-wide-eyed ferocity – with an easy chemistry that gives their badinage a pleasingly improvised feel. And, gratifyingly, their interaction is really all there is to The Heat. I mean it as a compliment when I say I've rarely seen a Hollywood production so willing to reduce its male characters to negligible planks.

Don't believe the hype for The Conjuring (James Wan 112 mins, 15 *), a dull exorcism tale which has possessed American critics to hail its carousel of clichés as a return to "old fashioned horror". An overlong, repetitive tale of two woefully normal paranormal investigators taking on the spirits of a New England house, it's apparently based on a true story, though it's more likely based on the desire of execs to squeeze another cheap and cheerless franchise out of director James Wan (Saw, Insidious). But there are a few decent jolts, should you be interested in staying awake.