Local Review: ‘The Heat’ was a pleasant surprise

I went into “The Heat” expecting to be disappointed.

It’s not because I doubted the abilities of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy to make me laugh, but because I feared the movie – which was promoted early on with an R-rated “red-band” trailer – would go the way of a lot of other so-called comedies these days and try to replace genuine humor with excessive vulgarity and swearing.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself laughing out loud again and again at a movie that didn’t rely solely on being crude to entertain its audience, even if there was still more of the aforementioned vulgarity and swearing than necessary.

“The Heat” is a takeoff on the classic buddy cop formula in which two mismatched law enforcers clash and ultimately learn to work together. Sarah Ashburn (Bullock, “The Proposal”) is a polished FBI agent who closes numerous cases thanks to having mastered every trick in the book – except for how to respect and get along with her fellow agents. Shannon Mullins (McCarthy, “Identity Thief”) is a Boston police detective who uses her knowledge of the city’s shadier side and relentless determination to keep her hometown safe.

So when Ashburn brushes Mullins aside while investigating a rising drug lord, they naturally get off on the wrong foot.

The villains are a forgettable collection, engaged in a ho-hum conspiracy, and there are a few lapses of logic in the story. But none of that really matters because the pairing of Bullock and McCarthy is the movie’s heart and soul.

The film is another entry in the “Wait a minute, people will pay to see movies starring women?” discussion that always seems to come back up even though the question has been affirmatively answered over and over (most recently by “Heat” director Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids”).

“The Heat” makes use of the gender switch when it needs to for humor’s sake but doesn’t hit you over the head with it (well, except in the climax). Bullock and McCarthy are funny first and funny women second, although the jokes about an albino DEA agent get old fast.

Ashburn and Mullins beat up plenty of bad guys, arm themselves to the teeth and mouth off to their superiors as much as Riggs and Murtagh ever did.

And yes, they swear and make crude jokes like their male counterparts. It doesn’t happen as much with Ashburn at first, which actually makes the foul-mouthed Mullins a little more interesting as a counterpoint. And the movie never reaches the cesspool level of last year’s unfortunate “21 Jump Street.”

It’s just a shame that a movie this funny, with such a great pair of leads, has to have so much of that stuff in it at all. In my mind, “The Heat” would have lost nothing by dropping to a PG-13 level and increasing the laugh-to-cringe ratio.