"The Heat" has no right to be as funny as it turns out to be.
Paul Feig's comedy begins with strained, almost embarrassing sight gags, cartoonishly overwritten dialogue and an eye-rolling overreliance on cop buddy comedy clichés.
"The Heat"★ ★ ★
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Rappaport
Directed by: Paul Feig
Other: A 20th Century Fox release. Rated R for language, violence. 117 minutes
Yet, when Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy and her partner in crime-fighting, Sandra Bullock, find their comic groove, the hits begin to outnumber the misses and "The Heat" brings on some riotously funny moments and several surprises along the way.
The funniest lines in the movie? Don't ask.
They can't be repeated in a family newspaper, mainly because they come out of the R-rated mouth of McCarthy's salty Boston street cop, Shannon Mullins, who fires off far more F-bombs than bullets in "The Heat," and they can be just as lethal.
After the initial language shock wears off, McCarthy's favorite naughty adjective/verb/noun of choice becomes part of her character, like a woman cop trapped in a David Mamet play.
Despite the language and R-rated displays of violence, Feig actually plays it very safe in "The Heat."
He never pushes Bullock or McCarthy outside of their comfort zones, which might explain why "The Heat" feels so comfortable, at least as comfortable as an obscenity-laden, R-rated buddy-cop movie can be.
Bullock stars as Sarah Ashburn, a thin variation on her buttoned-down, clumsy, too-smart-to-be-sexy bachelorette with snorting laugh issues.
Her pursuit of a mysterious, never-seen drug kingpin brings her to Boston where she reluctantly pairs up with McCarthy's pushy, gun-waving police officer who's so intimidating that everyone on the local force, even her boss, quivers in her presence.
Sarah has the opposite problem: Her fellow agents have little respect for her, as evidenced by a scene in which FBI men ignore her orders by entering a house of interest. (Considering she's the only agent who doesn't wear protective head gear, how smart can she really be?)
Sarah goes by the book.
Shannon throws the book.
Literally, she throws a phone book at a suspect before using her revolver to play Russian roulette with his unmentionables. And he talks.
As McCarthy bounces around like a hand grenade with the pin pulled (you never know when she's going to explode), Bullock's Sarah provides the perfect foil as her straight-as-a-stilletto partner.
McCarthy's nonstop verbal assaults feel utterly and hilariously spontaneous. (How much of her dialogue actually came from Katie Dippold's formula screenplay would be interesting to know.)
Feig previously directed McCarthy to an Oscar nomination in the far edgier, better-written "Bridesmaids," and it's highly unlikely he'll repeat that accomplishment here.
But he does elicit surprising empathy for his leading characters.
Sarah turns out to be an orphan overcompensating for her lack of family and love.
Shannon comes from a big Catholic family with a stern matriarch ("SNL" veteran Jane Curtin) and lots of hard feelings. She put her brother (Michael Rappaport) behind bars. But she did it to save him from mobsters, so her heart was in the right place.
OK, that's enough emo material for this movie.
Just when "The Heat" seems to be losing its comic hotness, bam! We get randomly hit by a man choking in a restaurant and it's up to Sarah to remember a TV special on tracheotomies to save the man's life.
Yes, it's a bloody riot.
Next up for Feig will be a comic twist on the James Bond movies -- with a female 007. The heat is on.