Hot Pursuit ** (out of 5)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, Richard T. Jones, John Carroll Lynch, Vincent Laresca, Joaquin Cosio, Jim Gaffigan, and Mike Birbiglia
Written by: David Feeney and John Quaintance
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: a straight, overzealous law enforcement officer comes into a dangerous situation and must escort a quirky witness from point A to point B. If it sounds familiar, that’s because the film has been done before. Ad nauseam. But oh, the hijinks! Be still my beating heart! Alas, I kid you- despite an honest effort (as usual) from Reese Witherspoon, combined with a perfunctory attempt to foist herself upon the comedic landscape by Sofia Vergara, Hot Pursuit is a tired, familiar viewing exercise. While I’m sure the principles involved had a hoot during filming, they forgot to provide much of anything to hold our attention, and assumed that tired stereotypes and also-ran clichés were fine stand-ins for actual fun.
Witherspoon is “Cooper”, the daughter of a well-known and respected police officer in the sovereign state of Texas. She grew up riding in a squad car, learning police codes through the scanner, and becoming a thoroughly trained officer herself. An unfortunate incident involving a taser has left her not quite disgraced, but also not, well, ‘graced’ either. In staying true to ‘cop movie’ form, Cooper is ridiculed by her supposed brethren as she is relegated to the evidence room. In a not-so-surprising twist of fate (but not really, since there isn’t a movie otherwise), her boss assigns her to a high-profile witness relocation mission. She is to accompany a FBI agent (Jones) to the home of Felipe Riva (Laresca), an important cog in the Vicente Cortez (Cosio) drug cartel, who is choosing to turn informant. Cooper’s part in this is to escort Felipe’s wife Daniella (Vergara), who wants to shove everything into her suitcase. She’s high-maintenance, it appears, and insists on having things her way. This, of course makes it difficult for Cooper to do her job. Do I hear sitcom?
We don’t have a movie if it’s a group of four people, though. Cooper and Daniella escape a sticky situation when two separate groups of assailants attack the household. Now it’s a road/buddy movie! These two sure do get into a whole bunch of shenanigans on their way to Dallas. First, they discover that there are (gasp) crooked cops! Then they lose their transportation. Then, of course, the straight-laced one gets all wacky after ingesting a banned substance. Then, there’s some physical comedy involving Jim Gaffigan’s awful stereotype of a rural Texan. But wait- there’s more! There’s a super hunky convict that takes a shine to Cooper, and we just know he’s going to crack that shell of awkwardness. There’s also more to Daniella than we may have originally thought. Cortez has killed her brother, or so we’re led to believe, so the chickens will, in all likelihood, come home to roost.
Please do not mistake my blatant sarcasm as intentionally vicious. I don’t hate this film, and for all intents and purposes, it isn’t Adam Sandler-level offensive to my sensibilities. I would have gladly welcomed a fresh take from a new release comedy, however, especially considering how likable and convincing Reese Witherspoon can be in most any role. Hot Pursuit simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to be fresh or new, especially when we consider that in the past few years, we’ve had multiple police comedies, usually pairing one straight-laced personality with an unpredictable one, or just a cop movie comedy in general. (See The Heat, 21 Jump Street, Ride Along, the Rush Hour films, Reno 911!, and even Let’s Be Cops for examples) At this point, whatever humor exists that is inherent to the police trade has been covered to the nth degree. It’s simply a tired formula that has seemingly bled out, and only gasps for life. I, for one, would like to officially call the time of death.
Oddly enough, the outtakes shown with the end credits outshine the film itself. We can see a distinct chemistry between the two stars, and their natural personalities are revealed. Now, if that magic could have been captured on-screen, we’d have something. Unfortunately, there is a humor deficit and familiarity with this film, which apparently forced the writers to rely on lazy cultural stereotypes and gross-out gags to generate laughs. Save for the staunchest of Witherspoon supporters, or perhaps those that can’t seem to get enough “Modern Family”, the film is wholly unnecessary. Actually, that thought leads to another- go watch “Modern Family”, then pop in Walk the Line, Election, or Legally Blonde (if you’re into that kind of thing) to get a better understanding of how these stars can make a project shine. Seek them out with a hot pursuit. See what I did there? I just made myself chuckle, a far greater accomplishment than I can credit to this film.