There are more movies in which male cops are partnered by dogs than there are female buddy cop movies, which makes Paul Feig’s comedy a very rare bird indeed. Sandra Bullock plays a hotshot but friendless FBI agent sent from New York to Boston, where she is partnered in a case against a local drug kingpin by shambolic but streetwise local detective Melissa McCarthy.
It’s the classic fish-out-of-water, snob vs slob, uptight vs hothead set-up seen in everything from 48 Hrs to Dragnet to the Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop franchises, and sticks to the traditional buddy formula of mutual antagonism giving way to grudging tolerance blossoming into affectionate respect. Except that this time, the buddies are women.
The mismatched buddy movie deals in well-worn clichés, but the film-makers are sufficiently aware of this to kick off with a slightly grimy 1970s retro opening credits sequence, which slyly hints at the political incorrectness to come, as well as acknowledging the throwback nature of the humour and a plot that also incorporates a few touches of unexpectedly vicious 1970s-style violence.
Feig and co have clearly decided that now is not the time to subvert the form, but that it’s two actresses, instead of two actors, gives the overfamiliar material a fresh twist. It also helps, of course, that both Bullock and McCarthy are experienced, sometimes inspired comic performers.
The results are hit and miss. I found the repeated gags about the albino FBI agent laboured and unfunny, for example, though they’re clearly a dig at the Killer Albino Trope, an example of which occurs in a film being screened on Bullock’s TV – Foul Play. But the gags come so thick and fast that enough of them stick.
And one of the smartest involves Pumpkin, a big gingerpuss who performs the CATPANION function of giving Bullock someone to talk to when she’s alone at night, watching TV, thus helping to establish her character’s loneliness before she has even left New York. The CATPANION, we hardly need to be reminded, is the classic signifier of a single woman.
But the joke is on the viewer. In a nice reversal of expectations, we hear Bullock’s neighbour shouting, “Pumpkin! Here kitty, kitty, kitty! Are you at the neighbour’s again?” Yes, Bullock is too lonely and friendless even to have a cat of her own! She reluctantly lets Pumpkin out, after which we heard the neighbour again: “Pumpkin! I told you to stay away from that weird lady!”
The cat also helps the two mismatched cops to bond. Halfway through the film, as the mutual antagonism starts to thaw, McCarthy spots a framed photograph of her partner with Pumpkin. “I see you have a cat… Is he around? Cos I’d like to kind of, you know, pet him and stuff.” Bullock mutters that the cat ran away before she left New York, and McCarthy, concluding her new partner is even more pathetic than she’d thought, but showing the first signs of sensitivity towards her, says, “That fuckin tabby is an asshole, that’s what he is. Fuck you!” – this last remark directed at the cat’s picture.
But wait! For Pumpkin also provides the film with a late-breaking punchline during the end credits, no longer faithful CATPANION but transformed into CATSCALLION. After the case has been solved, and in a gesture intended to cement their friendship, McCarthy presents Bullock with a surprise gift – a cardboard box containing none other than Pumpkin, for whom she has been to New York, searched high and low, and who has finally been picked up (naturally enough) outside Bullock’s old address.
Pumpkin (played by “Skylar” and “Tylar”) is a big fluffy docile gingerpuss who doesn’t seem to mind being cathandled by the two stars. He steals both his scenes – as well as another in which he appears only in a picture – simply by looking pusslike and adorable.
And he pops up again in the end credits – twice.