Hot Pursuit is an anomalous product in Hollywood, a female-fronted, female-directed action comedy. The easiest comparisons are Paul Feig’s recent films (Bridesmaids, The Heat) that give a typically male-centric subgenre a makeover. Director Anne Fletcher (The Guilt Trip, 27 Dresses) attempts to do for movies like 48 Hours and Midnight Run what Bridesmaids did for raunchy comedies. While there are some hilarious scenes, and leads Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara have a strong chemistry, Hot Pursuit is never much more than a moderately entertaining distraction.
Cooper (Witherspoon) is an uptight, by-the-book cop riding a desk in the evidence room. Daniella Riva (Vergara) is the wife of the guy who is set to testify against a vicious drug lord. Through a convenient plot point (apparently Cooper is the only female cop in San Antonio), Cooper is supposed to transport the witnesses to court, but when a couple of hit squads show up they go on the run, pursued by the cartel and dirty cops, and are framed for a crime they didn’t commit.
Their dynamic is this: Cooper is short (that becomes a key character trait) and annoying; Daniella is voluptuous and says words funnily. When they don’t fall into these too-shallow characterizations—attempts at backstory add little to nothing—Witherspoon and Vergara are good together onscreen. This tandem carries the bulk of the weight throughout, and the best laughs—and there’s a good amount—stem from that.
David Feeney and John Quaintance’s script as written, however, is flat and rote. When Hot Pursuit is funny, it’s because Witherspoon and Vergara make it funny, not necessarily because it’s that way on the page. The best moments, like an argument in Spanish on a bus full of senior citizens, have an improvised feel where the two actors seem like they’re winging it (you actually see bits of this in the gag reel footage during the credits).
For every funny scene are those painfully unfunny ones, as when Cooper is unable to drive and dial 911 at the same time, so she hands the phone to Daniella, who promptly drops it out of a moving car. There’s also a tedious running joke in which the two see themselves on news reports, where anchors keep saying Cooper is shorter and shorter and Daniella is older and older. Wacky hijinks abound.
Hot Pursuit takes a typically male-dominated style of movie and pokes it from time to time. All the beats and tropes are present and accounted for, but get skewed just the slightest bit. Some are intentionally subversive, while others become inherently altered due simply to the swapped gender of the leads. In that regard, the movie is fresher than it could have been, but it’s not enough to elevate the story that is, blow-by-blow, exactly the kind of movie it aspires to be. You know when the twist is coming, you know that when the two women appear to be bonding it’s not quite as deeps as one thinks, you expect the big character reveal, and you expect the predictably serious turn going into the third act.
At its best, Witherspoon and Vergara are able to inject Hot Pursuit with some snappy, bitchy life. A scene in which Cooper accidentally ingests a cloud of airborne cocaine, and her tense, anxious personality kicks into hyperdrive during what amounts to a shopping spree through a backwoods mercantile, is among the film’s highlights, one that captures the spirit of the on-the-run buddy comedies it seeks to imitate. Not every moment hits like this, but the film finds a stride and rhythm near the middle, even with its requisite romantic angle.
Yet when Hot Pursuit misses, it misses so wide. There’s a tedious faux lesbian moment played up to distract a simpleminded redneck man, not to mention the scene where they don the hide of a dead deer to sneak past a police blockade, arguing loudly the whole time. The attempt to infuse the story with a Hope-Crosby zaniness and eccentricity fails.
Hot Pursuit is soaringly dumb, predictable, and often wearisome. It can also be uproariously funny—though the groans do match, if not outnumber, the laughs. There’s no need to rush out and see this movie in the theater opening night, or at all, but if you happen across it on cable some rainy weekend afternoon, it might adequately fill a brief 87 minutes.
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writers: David Feeney, John Quaintance
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro
Release Date: May 8, 2015