The greatness of any comedy team is completely dependent on the straight man. Without the likes of Bud Abbott, Dick Smothers, and David Spade tirelessly and expertly prodding, sighing, and bantering then Lou Costello, Tommy Smothers, and Chris Farley would never have been able to rake in the laughs by the boatload.
I say all this because it turns out that Sandra Bullock, with a career’s worth of romantic leads and dramatic turns under her belt, may have only just discovered her true calling as a gifted straight man (or straight woman, if you prefer).
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s been paired with Melissa McCarthy — one of the best, if not the best, comedic actors working today, in the utterly hilarious buddy-cop movie “The Heat.” Not only is this movie destined to be the comedy hit of the summer, but it is also pound-for-pound the funniest movie to come along since the original “The Hangover.”
Bullock plays straight-laced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, who is highly talented and motivated, but isn’t exactly beloved by her fellow agents and is generally friendless.
Eyeing a promotion and wanting to prove to her boss (played by Demian Bichir) that she can work well with others, Ashburn heads to Boston to track down a ruthless and mysterious drug lord.
The investigation leads her onto the turf of detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), a rumpled, tough, law-enforcement force-of-nature, who terrifies everyone in her precinct from her captain (Tom Wilson, aka Biff from “Back to the Future”) on down to the lowliest street thugs.
The overall buddy-cop structure of “The Heat” is fairly conventional as Ashburn and Mullins are at first adversaries, but, as they are forced to work the case together, become a formidable duo.
What you haven’t seen a thousand times before is the way Bullock and McCarthy play with these conventions, not only by taking this macho formula and giving it a feminine twist but by polishing their dynamic to the point that it looks effortless. Bullock sets up the jokes and McCarthy crushes them out of the park.
The supporting cast is fantastic as Bullock and McCarthy share the movie with a smorgasbord of “hey, it’s that guy!” comedic actors. The list includes Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Michael Rappaport, Taran Killam, Tony Hale, and Kaitlin Olson.
“The Heat” was written by Katie Dippold, who doesn’t have a lot of credits outside of writing and producing on the terrific TV series “Parks and Recreation.” She’s clearly very funny as nearly all the jokes land, but she also knows when to sprinkle in just the right amount of emotion to make sure we actually care about these characters.
Director Paul Feig is best known for helming the “girls are funny too!” hit “Bridesmaids” and while that movie had its pacing problems, here, Feig keeps “The Heat” bouncing right along (OK. Fine. He maybe could have trimmed about 10 minutes.) and handles the action scenes nearly as nimbly as he does the comedy scenes.
If you want to look for a movie that is similar in tone to “The Heat,” I would harken back to “Beverly Hills Cop” as it is also hilariously profane and uses violence to ground the movie and raise the stakes, but not so much that it takes you out of the movie.
Probably the best move Feig made was knowing when to simply get out of McCarthy’s way. Her sense of comedic timing is of the highest order and she lands the big jokes and little throw-away lines with equal precision.
You can also tell she gets a charge bouncing off of Bullock. Once again, I have to give Bullock kudos for not only performing the herculean feat of holding her own with McCarthy but also for nailing a few jokes of her own.
I am fairly certain we have not seen the last Bullock/McCarthy pairing as these two are just too good together to keep apart. If they can’t find a movie for them to do, somebody at least should book them for a couple of months in the Catskills.
“The Heat” is rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content, and some violence.