Buddy Cops Face “The Heat”

Female buddy cops take over the big screen.
Female buddy cops take over the big screen. // Creative Commons

I can count on one hand the number of new releases I saw this summer: “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “This Is the End” and “The Heat.” All wonderful films, all very different. “Star Trek” is an adventure and a half, and “The End” is astonishingly offensive and hilarious. “The Heat” is more different still. Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock teams with the always outrageous, never boring Melissa McCarthy to deliver a helluva comedic haymaker that never once loses momentum.

Miss Congeniality returns in good form as FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn — another stick-in-the-mud buzzkill who’s too good at her job, and is generally disliked because of it. Ashburn guns for a promotion and takes on a high-profile drug case in Boston to secure the new office. There she quickly runs afoul of McCarthy’s brass tacks Shannon Mullins. First they’re at odds, then they open up to one another, then something goes wrong, then they kick ass.

But that’s not the only reason we love “The Heat.” It’s a buddy cop movie, plain and simple. Performance, not necessarily action, keeps us engaged. It’s about how our opposite-sides-of-the-track heroes take over the world. Tragedy might strike and people might die, but our buddies banter their ways into our hearts, and we don’t tend to forget them.

Because what makes the Buddy Cop so memorable is that, fundamentally, it’s an incredibly entertaining equation. You have an X and you have a Y, and a combination of the two, however disjointed the pieces might seem at first, somehow makes a single, well-oiled film that’s barely rough at all. The best Buddy Cops are therefore the ones that are most visually mismatched while still coming together, and when you think of the famous examples of the genre, you get a nice little melting pot.

Black/white is the common one. It started with the more serious “In the Heat of the Night,” a Sidney Poitier detective film that tackled racism in the rural South, nabbing an Oscar for best picture and an acting distinction for Rod Steiger. It continued many years later with Eddie Murphy’s classic turn in “Beverley Hills Cop” and hit something of a peak when a burgeoning Mel Gibson teamed with Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon.” Out of necessity, Buddy Cops had to get a little more creative after that.

The infamous Michael Bay broke ground when he paired black A-listers Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to produce the international blockbuster “Bad Boys.” Will Smith would strike gold again when he and Tommy Lee Jones lifted the genre to the world of extraterrestrial espionage in “Men in Black.” Tom Hanks even took a French mastiff as his partner in “Turner & Hooch.”

But of them all, “Rush Hour,” and its glorious sequel “Rush Hour 2,” are my favorites. Chris Tucker plays a loudmouth cop out of Compton who never misses a beat and always has a sharp quip ready to throw away at the drop of a hat. But when his brash style lands him in the doghouse, he circumvents the system with the help of Jackie Chan to rescue a Chinese ambassador’s daughter. To think you could team a riotously quick-witted black comedian with a Chinese martial artist-turned-actor who can barely speak English is something of a creative watershed to me, but more because it inexplicably took so long for someone to try it out.

This is how I feel about “The Heat.” It’s a Buddy Cop with two women, but that hardly matters with Bullock and McCarthy running the show. The chemistry between the two actresses holds up the weight of the film, and their steady stream of sight gags and potty jokes can at times even put Tucker and Chan to shame. So I can’t wait for “The Heat 2.” I’m looking forward to Mullins blasting a warehouse with an RPG-missile while Ashburn continues her climb from stick-in-the-mud to fiery and beloved FBI war general. But more than that, I’m excited for this new cache of Buddy Cop possibilities.

We’ll eventually get some ethnic variations of the all-female Buddy Cop, and perhaps, in time, we could even see mixed-gender, and further along still, queer Buddy Cops. If the trailer is funny enough, I don’t see why we shouldn’t watch them as they come. And judging by the bankroll returns coming in from “The Heat,” I don’t think I’m alone here. So I await the changes with open arms. Just remember: If you’re not laughing, something’s probably wrong.

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