ROMP, WITH EX­PLO­SIONS

The Heat (MA15+) ★★★ ✩ National re­lease Cloud­burst (MA15+) ★★★ ✩ Se­lected cinemas in Melbourne, Ade­laide, Ho­bart and Perth; other cities later

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

HOL­LY­WOOD’S new buddy cop com­edy, The Heat, is be­ing billed as some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. So I went along with ea­ger ex­pec­ta­tions, alert for signs of fresh­ness and nov­elty. And what do we get? Two chalk-and-cheese cops who can’t stand each other, the usual bloody shootouts, plenty of foul lan­guage, a quota of sadis­tic vi­o­lence, a touch of slap­stick, an elu­sive mob­ster and, be­lieve it or not, a car chase. It sounds very much like ev­ery other Hol­ly­wood buddy cop movie we know and love, but for one dif­fer­ence — the buddy cops in The Heat are fe­male, and the film is be­ing hailed as an­other mile­stone in the Hol­ly­wood gen­der wars.

The re­sult may not be ex­actly a comic mas­ter­piece, but it’s cer­tainly one of the fun­ni­est movies of the year. And what makes it funny is not so much the sex of the char­ac­ters but the brash­ness and zest of the per­for­mances. With min­i­mal vari­a­tions, Katie Dip­pold’s screen­play might have worked just as well if the buddy cops were blokes. New York FBI agent Sarah Ash­burn (San­dra Bul­lock) is as­signed to work with free­wheel­ing Bos­ton cop Shan­non Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) in crack­ing a vi­cious drug ring, and there’s an as­sump­tion on the part of the film­mak­ers that the mere sight of fe­male cops tot­ing guns and rough­ing it with bad guys is pretty funny in it­self. But Sarah and Shan­non aren’t re­ally shown as ‘‘ girl’’ cops at all: they’re cops who just hap­pen to be women. Sarah is up­tight, hard-nosed, su­per-ef­fi­cient, as ca­reer-minded as any of her male col­leagues. Shan­non is tough, bru­tal, fear­less and ac­cus­tomed to get­ting her way in male com­pany with tirades of abuse. If there’s a gen­der stereo­type be­ing bro­ken it’s the po­lite (and long dis­cred­ited) no­tion that women are the gen­tler sex.

The di­rec­tor is Paul Feig, who worked with McCarthy on the 2011 com­edy hit Brides­maids. And once again he’s well served by his cast. The Heat is a fairly pre­dictable cop thriller that owes ev­ery­thing to the zest of its lead­ing play­ers. In ap­pear­ance they con­form to the stan­dard com­edy-duo re­quire­ment that has ruled in Hol­ly­wood since the days of Lau­rel and Hardy. Take one straight guy and one fall guy — prefer­ably one fat guy and one skinny. If you can’t have a white buddy and a black buddy (Mel Gib­son and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon), you can have one smart guy and one nerd ( Bev­erly Hills Cop), one deskbound pen­cil-pusher and one free­wheel­ing ac­tion spe­cial­ist ( The Other Guys), one lazy slacker and one con­sci­en­tious stick­ler for the rules ( Starsky & Hutch) and, if all else fails, one hu­man and one canine ( Turner & Hooch).

The buddy cop genre had its hey­day in the 1980s — a reaction, I think, to the re­al­ism of the God­fa­ther films. Au­di­ences sated with sto­ries of cor­rup­tion and be­trayal wanted some light re­lief. And per­haps they still do. If The Heat teaches us any­thing it is that the buddy cop for­mula — what­ever the sex of the pro­tag­o­nists — hasn’t changed in 30 years. It’s a romp with well-timed ex­plo­sions.

None of this is meant as a crit­i­cism of Bul­lock or McCarthy. They’re in great form, and all the fun­nier be­cause of their con­trast­ing styles — McCarthy joy­ously over the top, as ever, Bul­lock de­light­fully and sub­tly un­der- stated. McCarthy’s char­ac­ter, Shan­non, has a rev­er­ence for firearms that should make her a pin-up for the National Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. A se­cret com­part­ment in her home is stocked with hand­guns, bazookas and flamethrow­ers, and in her fun­ni­est scene she sub­jects one nasty char­ac­ter to a game of Rus­sian roulette.

As for Sarah, we al­most feel sorry for her. She seeks com­pan­ion­ship with her neigh­bour’s cat, and it turns out she was reared by a suc­ces­sion of foster par­ents. Funny? Only when we con­trast her nat­u­ral pas­siv­ity with her out­bursts of fran­tic en­ergy. Sarah has been trained as a pre­ci­sion driver, and in her big car chase scene she could just as eas­ily be pi­lot­ing that run­away bus in Speed.

There’s a weird mo­ment when she uses a kitchen knife and a drink­ing straw to per­form emer­gency throat surgery on a restau­rant pa­tron with some­thing stuck in his throat. Not all the blood­thirsty touches in The Heat are the re­sult of vil­lains be­ing blasted with grenades or hav­ing their pri­vate parts

shot up at close range. I guess that’s progress.

The in­evitable bond­ing process takes a while to de­velop, but it’s an es­sen­tial part of the for­mula. That drunken dance rou­tine, when the girls per­form to­gether in a sleazy night­club, is the emo­tional turn­ing point of the movie. I like the way Sarah’s lan­guage, prissy and cor­rect at first, soon de­scends to the same gut­ter level as Shan­non’s. Those who en­joyed the old buddy cop movies will find noth­ing in

The Heat to dis­ap­point them. It ticks all the boxes. And it would be a duller film with­out Bul­lock and McCarthy. For much of the time it’s a two-han­der. Th­ese bick­er­ing, brawl­ing girls are all we see and hear. And they’re pretty much all we need.

CLOUD­BURST is a low-bud­get Cana­dian fea­ture writ­ten and di­rected by Thom Fitzger­ald and, ac­cord­ing to the film’s dis­trib­u­tors, it has won 30 best-pic­ture awards and en­joyed sell-out screen­ings at film fes­ti­vals across the world. I’ll take that on trust.

Olympia Dukakis is Stella, a bul­ly­ing, ill­tem­pered, foul-mouthed old woman who I think we are meant to like in the same way that we are meant to like Melissa McCarthy’s char­ac­ter in The Heat. She’s one of those aw­ful, ir­re­press­ible char­ac­ters that film­mak­ers like to in­flict on us.

Stella and her part­ner Dot­tie (Brenda Fricker) have lived in a loving les­bian re­la­tion­ship for more than 30 years. But their shared hap­pi­ness is about to end. Dot­tie is sick and legally blind, and her grand­daugh­ter, very sen­si­bly, wants to put her into an aged-care home where she’ll be looked af­ter prop­erly. But Stella will have none of it. She rips up the court or­der au­tho­ris­ing Dot­tie’s re­moval, abducts her from the home where she’s been forcibly con­fined and takes her back to the lit­tle house they share on the coast of Maine. And be­cause there’s a lot of driv­ing in cars,

Cloud­burst can be called a road movie. The last road movie I re­mem­ber with two fe­male leads was Thelma & Louise, hailed in its day as a fem­i­nist mile­stone be­cause Su­san Saran­don and Geena Davis had no trou­ble out­wit­ting some ugly male ad­ver­saries. But they weren’t les­bian (cer­tainly not in those days), so

Cloud­burst may stand as the first comic les­bian road movie in cin­ema his­tory. Bully for Canada and Thom Fitzger­ald! The film’s tone, though pro­foundly com­pas­sion­ate, is agreeably light­hearted. For those won­der­ing about the ap­pro­pri­ate col­lec­tive noun for Stella, Dot­tie and oth­ers of like per­sua­sion, Stella comes up with a gag­gle of gays and flock of les­bians. I think that’s meant as a joke.

Fitzger­ald’s screen­play, an adroit blend of warmth and hu­mour, probes deeper lay­ers of in­sight as the story un­folds. Stella de­cides the best way to safe­guard her re­la­tion­ship with Dot­tie is to marry her. With some re­luc­tance Dot­tie agrees (‘‘I don’t be­lieve in mar­riage’’), and the pair set off in their lit­tle ute to drive from Maine across the bor­der into Canada, where same-sex mar­riages are le­gal. On the road they pick up Pren­tice (Ryan Doucette), a young hitch­hiker on his way to see his dy­ing mother. Pren­tice is an­other char­ac­ter with hid­den depths — drifter, dead­beat and a trained dancer who likes giv­ing un­bid­den per­for­mances. He is the film’s an­chor­ing pres­ence — sane, kindly, brave, re­source­ful and happy to go along with Stella’s plans. If there is such a thing as best man at a les­bian wed­ding, Pren­tice is ready with his ser­vices. Af­ter a bu­reau­cratic hitch or two — which of the women is to be des­ig­nated the spin­ster on the mar­riage form and which the bach­e­lor? — the wed­ding is ready to go.

But as we are soon re­minded, noth­ing is ever plain sail­ing in the best ro­man­tic come­dies. The per­for­mances are beau­ti­fully ac­com­plished and the mi­nor roles — Pren­tice’s mum, her mad hus­band, the iras­ci­ble grand­daugh­ter, a lo­cal cop — add sparkle and di­ver­sity to the story. Only later did it oc­cur to me that Stella and Dot­tie’s jour­ney might have been un­nec­es­sary. Ac­cord­ing to my re­searches, same-sex mar­riage was le­galised in Maine in 2009, a de­ci­sion over­turned in a referendum but later re­in­stated by law and ef­fec­tive from De­cem­ber last year. So Cloud­burst is a lit­tle dated. But if Fitzger­ald had waited longer to make it, Stella and Dot­tie wouldn’t have had to travel to Canada. Then we wouldn’t have had a road movie — per­haps no movie at all. And what a shame that would have been.

Olivia Dukakis and Ryan Doucette on the road in Cloud­burst, left; and Melissa McCarthy and San­dra Bul­lock as a pair of cops in The Heat, above

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