I feared the worst when I saw that this was directed by Paul Feig, the fellow who lumbered us with the execrable Bridesmaids. My unease grew with every crass introductory scene in which the point is laid on thicker than bog in a hippie’s kombi that police officer Mullens (Melissa McCarthy) is fat, foul-mouthed and unkempt, but terrifically effective on the mean streets of Boston. It is one of cinema’s elevating achievements that we can now have women, too, say ‘fuck’ in every sentence, is it not? (To be honest, I hoped that the unescorted children in the audience were not exposed to similar language at home.)
FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is her antithesis. Slim, neat and temperamentally stitched up, she and Mullens are obvious candidates for a buddy movie. And so it goes, with nothing out of the ordinary for the first half, as the girls overcome irreconcilable differences to support each other in their macho cops’ world while getting deeply involved in an ongoing narcotics investigation. An obligatory all-night drinking session, in which they do the usual silly stuff, comes as an unexpected turning point.
Following it, the story swerves into darker territory, with a (literally) shocking murder blasting the complacent viewer out of the genre’s standard comfort zone. Despite – or more likely because of – the dramatic shift in emphasis, the humour becomes edgier, less forced and, as a consequence, funnier – there is a hilarious incident in a diner, cleverly set-up much earlier, when Ashburn performs an impromptu tracheotomy on a choking customer.
As always, however, the success or otherwise of such a film depends entirely on the chemistry between the main characters – and McCarthy and Bullock are a delight, delivering their lines with impeccable timing and sharing the sort of warmth that makes you care for what happens to them. Writer Katie Dippold at no point allows them to be mere female versions of blokes and even manages to bring the caper home with a sentimental flourish that fits like a glove. Recommended.