Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material.
Running time: 87 minutes.
One star out of four.
At the end of the mismatched-buddy comedy “Hot Pursuit,” during the closing credits, there’s a series of outtakes. This is frequently the case, especially when the performers have a knack for improv, and it can be amusing or even enlightening to see how a scene in the film might have played out in an alternate fashion.
The outtakes at the end of “Hot Pursuit,” however, are informative in a totally different way. They make it clear that there is even less funny stuff than what we’ve just seen. And that’s astounding.
“Hot Pursuit” isn’t just flat, it’s actively frustrating. It’s simultaneously manic and lazy. It’s vaguely misogynistic but too tame to be truly offensive. And it’s a massive waste of two actresses who are appealing individually and might have had a crackling chemistry together: Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara.
Their differences extend from their physical appearances to the auras they exude: Witherspoon is petite and precise, Vergara is curvaceous and outrageous. But they share an interest in playing comic roles that push and play with the limits of feminine extremes: Witherspoon as Tracy Flick in “Election” and Elle Woods in the “Legally Blonde” movies, Vergara as Gloria on TV’s “Modern Family.”
These are smart women who are clever enough to pull off some tricky comedy with a wink and a smile. “Hot Pursuit,” directed tepidly by Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses,” “The Proposal”) from a script by two men (sitcom writers David Feeney and John Quaintance) which is reliant on fake lesbian makeout sessions and menstruation jokes, places these actresses in overly simplistic yet uncomfortable boxes with no way out. Each character is a one-note idea rather than a fully fleshed-out figure, and not a particularly inspired one, at that. Once the film takes a break from its shrill antics and allows Witherspoon and Vergara the opportunity to dial it down and show some range, it offers a glimpse into the kind of substantive, convincing connection they might have forged. Such moments are rare but welcome.
Witherspoon stars as an innocent and uptight police officer known only as Cooper. The daughter of a late, veteran cop (as we see in the film’s opening montage, which shows her growing up in the back seat of his patrol car), Cooper has been stuck in the evidence room ever since an unfortunate Taser incident. (The timing for a running bit about police brutality is unfortunate.) But she’s eager to prove her worth in the field once more. Since she’s apparently the only woman on the force in the entire city of San Antonio, Cooper gets the assignment from her captain (John Carroll Lynch) to escort the wife of a high-ranking drug cartel member to Dallas so she can testify against the kingpin before entering witness protection.
That would be Vergara’s Daniella Riva, a Colombian sexpot who’s a whirlwind of tight clothes and twisted English. Naturally, nothing goes down as planned — a massive shootout with multiple sets of gunmen leaves both Riva’s husband and Cooper’s partner dead, which is played awkwardly for laughs. The two women are then forced to go on the run — in a vintage convertible, no less, although Cooper and Riva are definitely NOT Thelma and Louise — but fleeing inadvertently makes them suspects and the subjects of a statewide search.
A crash leaves Riva’s car in ruins and sends a cloud of hidden cocaine into the air, which makes Cooper even more obnoxiously chatty than she already was. (Witherspoon is essentially doing a version of Holly Hunter in “Raising Arizona” here, only with far less inspired writing.) With Riva’s oversized suitcase full of overpriced heels in tow, the two commandeer various vehicles in hopes of reaching Dallas safely. Mostly, they bicker. That photo at the top of the review isn’t even a moment that occurs in the movie, but it’s a pretty perfect encapsulation of its ethos.
Cooper rattles off penal codes and procedures in a twangy monotone, Riva makes fun of her for being small and weird in two different languages. And that’s pretty much the extent of their dynamic throughout various contrived, madcap scenarios. A would-be romance between Cooper and a parolee (Rob Kazinsky) whose pickup truck they steal feels wedged-in, as does an effort to explain Riva’s motivation through the context of her murdered brother.
These women are clearly game — look no further than a scene in which they dress up in a deer carcass to avoid a police checkpoint — and given that they also function as producers, they’re invested on multiple levels. But their efforts are in the service of material that renders their characters as little more than stereotypes.
These are exciting times for daring, female-centric comedies that appeal to all audiences, from “Bridesmaids” to “The Heat” to this summer’s “Spy” (which all happen to have the benefit of the same enlightened director, Paul Feig). “Hot Pursuit” tries to take a step forward in adapting the mismatched-buddy action-comedy model to a feminine perspective, but it feels like a giant leap backward. It’s actually, actively worse than you think it’s going to be.