Review: 'Hot Pursuit' is a hot mess that's beneath Reese Witherspoon

Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon are screaming at this movie's awful attempts at humor. Warner Bros.
Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon are screaming at this movie's awful attempts at humor.Warner Bros.
Published May 6 2015
Updated May 6 2015

Passing the Bechdel test but otherwise failing is Hot Pursuit — a movie starring women with clout and directed by a woman — that whiffs on feminism and comedy.

Rather than two women talking about anything besides men, Hot Pursuit has Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara shrieking about it, using exaggerated Southern and Spanglish more suitable for cartoons: "You got salsa in mah grits!" "You got greets in my salsa!"

Hot Pursuit is a road comedy, with all the biker bars, quirky encounters and engine troubles that entails. Kind of a female version of Midnight Run without wit. It is thankfully short; 87 minutes counting the end credits gag reel every mediocre comedy requires.

Witherspoon stars as Rose Cooper, a San Antonio, Texas, police officer terrible on dates and obsessed with protocol, whose name has become a euphemism for messing up: "You really Coopered that case." A flashback shows why, with a police brutality punchline that may not play well in some cities.

Cooper is assigned to escort Daniella Riva (Vergara) to Dallas where she and her husband will testify against a drug kingpin. Two sets of hired gunmen arrive at the pickup but Cooper and Daniella survive, escaping in a cherry red Cadillac convertible. Let the bickering begin.

From there, director Anne Fletcher (The Guilt Trip) sends her movie careening from one easy-sell slapstick moment to the next, interrupted by racial stereotypes and crooked cop cliches. Not to mention material pushing the PG-13, like circumstances surrounding Cooper's cocaine crazed truck stop shopping spree and some girl-on-girl action. Nothing too R but something for parents to consider.

What really offends about Hot Pursuit is its lazy approach to comedy, and so many short cuts making bad jokes possible. The women are the subject of a manhunt with wall-to-wall TV coverage yet no one except the right ones recognize them. Keys are conveniently left in a pickup truck Cooper commandeers, with a love interest (Robert Kazinsky) conveniently sleeping in the flatbed.

Later, the two women slip out of the truck at a roadblock, reappearing under a deer carcass looking phonier than a vaudeville prop.

One of these women is above this sort of thing now. The other is Vergara, who like countless sitcom sexpots before her desperately wants to be considered a movie star. Vergara has the va-va-va-voom part down pat but her 21st century Charo appeal ("I am the sitting goose out here.") can't excuse an acting range from A to D-cup. She's got it, she flaunts it, take the money, Joe Manganiello, and run.

Finding a reason for Witherspoon to do Hot Pursuit is tougher. Maybe she wanted a breezer after producing solid femme cinema (Gone Girl, Wild), and a run of serious performances. Just felt like updating the chipmunk spunk of Tracy Flick and Elle Woods. Whatever, she's a first-rate comedian with no business in a Coopered movie like this.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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