An infuriating and lazy exercise in mechanical comedy, Hot Pursuit is an awful movie. Directed by Anne Fletcher with a screenplay by John Quaintance and David Feeney, this 2015 flick attempts to brand itself as a female-centric Midnight Run. It purports to be some sort of opposites-attract buddy comedy, with Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon in the lead roles.
The obvious comparison is The Heat, which featured Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as two cops. That Paul Feig-directed trip had the guts to feature two female leads over the age of 40, an absolute rarity in today’s moronic Hollywood. Hot Pursuit mimics the same lot, although Witherspoon is just shy of the four-oh.
Witherspoon stars as San Antonio cop Rose Cooper. She’s wanted to be a cop her whole life and her father was a star policeman. “Unfortunately,” Cooper is too passionate and has trouble getting a man. She’s also not a very good cop, despite having an encyclopedic knowledge of everything police-related. One day, she’s sent on a mission to escort Daniella (Vergara) to Dallas.
Daniella is an outrageous walking stereotype. Naturally, she’s also the wife of a cartel informant and she’s supposedly going to testify against the big crime boss. Cooper picks Daniella up and comes upon a shootout, which sets off a wild pursuit as crooked cops and cartel members track the two women.
The differences between the two women are obvious. Cooper is repeatedly treated like a small boy, with various news reports talking about her height and Daniella making fun of her for having a moustache (???). Daniella, meanwhile, has lots of shoes because of course she does. She’s chic and loud. Very loud.
Witherspoon is out of her element with such a shallow screenplay. Despite the fun she may be having, she conveys little beyond initial impressions. Her problems amount to her being unable to “land a man,” which is where Randy (Robert Kazinsky) comes in as the obligatory bro. He’s an incredibly boring and avoidable addition, but Cooper needs to prove she can bag a dude in order to validate her femininity.
Because Daniella is (or was) married, she’s A-Okay in the eyes of Hot Pursuit and is consequently allowed the more serious plot device. In this instance, she’s avenging the death of her brother and has cooked up an elaborate plan to do so.
Itemizing the attempts at comedy is a futile endeavour on its own, but contextualizing certain scenes in light of the hollowness of the characters does help. There’s an explosion of cocaine that sends the buttoned-up Cooper on a hyper spree, for instance. Or there’s a stubborn play at lesbianism to distract a redneck played by Jim Gaffigan.
Or there’s the time Witherspoon’s character bursts into Randy’s hotel room and sees him stark-naked. Her response is to shout “penis” over and over again. Because she’s awkward like that and, you guessed it, “unlucky in love.” Apart from being violently unfunny, these scenes reveal the utter lack of stability in character development.
Consider Daniella’s advice for Cooper to “be herself,” which is basically code for “not behaving like a dude.” The opening credits reveal exactly who Cooper sees herself as, which is to say that she has always wanted to be a damn good cop. Rather than assert that she become a damn good cop, Hot Pursuit contends that she’s a joke for taking her work seriously.
More than that, Hot Pursuit insists she must be a total screw-up. She is outwitted at every turn. She is apparently incapable of recognizing cocaine or properly detaining a criminal. When Cooper does have to get physical with Daniella, she comes off like a pathetic child. And let’s not forget the excruciating “shotgun” spectre haunting her from her past.
From its worn-down inception, where Cooper is chasing an absconding date, Hot Pursuit makes its intentions clear. It builds on this shaky ground with exasperating performances, humourless jokes, insipid action, careless musical cues, and general contempt for the audience. In other words, this is a really bad movie. Really.