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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  A Few Clouds
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A volatile sleuth and a chilly FBI agent find common ground in The Heat
Fire and ice
on
Tetchy yin and yang.
Tetchy yin and yang.

Director Paul Feig was savvy to reenlist breakout star Melissa McCarthy for his follow-up to the 2011 smash Bridesmaids. She's the best thing in The Heat, an amiable but routine action-comedy about a mismatched law enforcement pair trying to bring down a Boston drug lord.

Sandra Bullock plays Ashburn, an FBI special agent who is brilliant, by-the-book and abhorred by her colleagues for her superior airs and prim mouth. ("Bull feces!" is about as demonstrative as she gets in the face of adversity.) McCarthy's Mullins, on the other hand, is a Boston detective who is vulgar, slovenly and hotheaded. Settling comfortably into types familiar to them, McCarthy and Bullock embody a tetchy yin and yang that, predictably, will meet on middle ground.

Feig, who created Freaks and Geeks and directed innovative comedies like The Office, is not a natural with action. One car chase around the streets of Boston feels like a series of molasses-slow left turns. Similarly, first-time feature screenwriter Katie Dippold, a writer and co-producer on TV's Parks & Recreation, has no knack for dramatizing police work. And for two supposedly genius dispensers of law and order, Ashburn and Mullins sure leave a lot of dead bodies in their wake, in oafish jolts of violence as ill-fitting as the film's few whiffs of teary drama.

But more often than not The Heat is just stupid-funny, which circles us back to McCarthy, motor-mouthing four-letter fury like an operatic aria. She sells Mullins as delightfully unhinged, and it's irresistible to watch. Word is that a sequel is already in the works.

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