'The Heat' has fresh new twist on old cliché

The Heat, a big summer hit starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, puts a funny new take on one of Hollywood’s biggest clichés.

Seemingly dozens of times in cop-adventure comedies, a pair of law officers who instinctively don’t get along are forced into conflict-filled partnership. As the story always goes, they clash through a series of disasters until they finally find the common ground and mutual respect.

All of that happens in The Heat — with a difference. Although the old buddy-cop-picture rules still apply, The Heat casts two female characters in roles usually played by men. The switch makes this much-trampled territory surprisingly fresh.

In their first pairing, Bullock and McCarthy, two gifted comic actresses, demonstrate great timing and natural rapport. Bullock plays FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn. She’s an Ivy Leaguer and a control freak who, despite being a smart, effective pro, does not play well with others.

Ashburn’s greatest gift may be her knack for alienating co-workers, most of whom are men. They don’t like her, don’t respect her. In their defense, Ashburn gloats whenever she makes them look like fools, which she often does.

Enter McCarthy’s Boston undercover police officer, Shannon Mullins. She’s working class, compulsively profane and anything but gentle with her suspects. Obviously, Mullins didn’t attend a fancy college, as Ashburn did. The family and the neighborhood she comes from are just as likely to have people breaking the law as enforcing it.

After the FBI dispatches Ashburn from New York to Boston for a major drug investigation, the controling Ashburn and gonzo Mullins are destined to tangle. Both of these opposites are also fiercely territorial. Boston may not be big enough for the two of them.

Aiding and abetting the comedy in The Heat, director Paul Feig reunites with McCarthy, one of his scene-stealing stars in Bridesmaids. The actress is even more aggressive in this new collaboration.

Bullock’s staid FBI agent, confronted by the angry and physically intimidating Mullins, ultimately gives in. The two of them become the unexpected A-Team of ladies in law enforcement.

Screenwriter Katie Dippold throws some drama amidst the comedy by making Mullins’ brother (Michael Rapaport) an ex-con. Mullins fears he’ll reenter the illegal drug trade. But comedy remains the film’s priority. Some of the funnier scenes feature the large ensemble cast playing Mullins’ loud and crude working-class Boston family.

As much comedy as Bullock and McCarthy’s evolution from reluctant colleagues to soul sisters spawns, The Heat eventually runs out of steam. The movie sags in the third act, but Feig and his funny leading ladies regroup for a big finale and amusing wrap-up that sets the stage for the sequel that’s likely to follow. The Heat gave both Bullock and McCarthy the biggest opening weekend of their careers.