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Movie Review of the Week: “Hot Pursuit”

Movie Review of the Week:  “Hot Pursuit”
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By Alison Bailes

In the fine tradition of odd couple, road-trip comedies comes “Hot Pursuit”, a cop/criminal pairing with women in the lead roles.  I know we are supposed to applaud projects with women stars, women producers and women directors, but to endorse this weak excuse for comedy insults us all.

Developed through Reese Witherspoon’s production company Pacific Standard and directed by Anne Fletcher (“The Proposal”), “Hot Pursuit” is a hot mess, to use an already outdated idiom, but one that seems fitting for this tired screenplay (by two men incidentally, David Feeney and John Quaintance). Playing with stereotypes can yield good results, but here the finished product is a screechy, played out piece of formulaic rubbish that needed several more re-writes before going before the camera.

Witherspoon plays Cooper, an uptight, rule-abiding Texas police officer who has become the laughing stock of the force. After an unfortunate Tasing incident (and I mean unfortunate: anyone with an eye on the news recently will cringe at the bad timing of this joke), Cooper has been relegated to working the evidence room. An early exchange with a pair of strong-jawed detectives telegraphs its significance to any one with a basic understanding of story structure. It’s no surprise when these two show up down the road and aren’t quite who they seem.

Witherspoon’s pedantic Cooper speaks in formal police-speak and hasn’t met a rule that she doesn’t love. She’s like Sandra Bullock’s officious FBI agent in “The Heat” as played by Kristin Chenoweth. But Bullock had Melissa McCarthy to bounce off, whereas here, Witherspoon’s screen partner is Sofia Vergara who plays Mrs. Riva, a loud, Colombian mob wife who needs police protection in order to testify against a drug lord. Cooper is tasked with escorting her to Dallas for the trial and much fun is made of the sight of Cooper, in her plain Jane ponytail and dowdy police attire next to the curvaceous, high-heeled Latina bombshell. However, jokes about Cooper’s boyish looks and upper lip hair fall flat with the pretty, feminine Witherspoon in the role.

A little of Vergara goes a long way which is why she works so well on TV’s “Modern Family”. Asked to hold up half of a feature length film is just too much. After just a few minutes, Vergara’s Riva starts to grate on one’s nerves. With the exception of a handful of funny lines (Vergara calls the diminutive Witherspoon “my little pony” which made me chuckle), the script excels in the two women screaming at each other and insulting each other. And just because it’s in Spanish with subtitles doesn’t make it any funnier. Perhaps actresses such as Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig could have jazzed this up with some snappy improvisation or some stony silences, but a telling look at the outtakes in the closing credits reveals that Witherspoon and Vergara aren’t particularly gifted in this area.

The by-the-numbers plot puts Cooper and Riva on the wrong side of the law, pursued by the drug lord’s thugs and the two aforementioned detectives. There’s a retro convertible (a nod to “Thelma and Louise”?) full of cocaine, a suitcase full of bedazzled stilettos and a final showdown at the drug lord’s daughter’s Quinceanera. “48 Hours” this isn’t, although the short running time of 87 minutes may just feel like 48 hours.





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