According to Hollywood, friendship operates very differently for men and women. For the guys, it generally consists of a lot of backslapping, wisecracking camaraderie, and cross-country road trips, while for the girls, it's mostly hand-holding, romance counseling, and tearful renditions of ''Wind Beneath My Wings.'' (Also: singing into hairbrushes.) Men get to be buddies, but the ladies are always BFFs.
That's why Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy's new Cagney-and-Lacey-tinged action comedy The Heat finds itself in a category with sparse company: the female buddy flick. You have to go back to Thelma & Louise (1991, 2 hrs., 10 mins., R) a drama to find the last Hollywood release that gave a pair of gals something so exciting to do. Before that, there was the high-energy Bette Midler and Shelley Long farce Outrageous Fortune (1987, 1 hr., 40 mins., R) and, of course, 9 to 5 (1980, 1 hr., 50 mins., PG), in which a trio of put-upon office employees kidnap their piggish boss. And then...the well runs dry. (Bridesmaids doesn't qualify since the friendship is the plot, not incidental to it, while films like The First Wives Club and Baby Mama contain elements of the genre without fully belonging.) Some have suggested that the male buddy movie only gained traction in the '60s as a backlash to the rise of feminism, edging the woman out of the classic protagonist pairing and turning Nick and Nora into Nick and Noah. It's ridiculous to treat movie genres like public restrooms, but hopefully, if The Heat performs well at the box office, maybe, maybe this will start to change. Steel Magnolias sounds like the title of a pretty badass action movie anyway. Thelma & Louise: A- 9 to 5: A- Outrageous Fortune: B