Left cold by 'Hot Pursuit'

Betsy Sharkey
Los Angeles Times Film Critic
Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara should have given the supposed comedy 'Hot Pursuit' the cold shoulder

How bad is it?

"Hot Pursuit," the new female buddy comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, is so bad even a wild bunch of die-hard misogynists would be offended.

It's so bad it will go down as Academy Award-winning Witherspoon's worst movie, at least for the foreseeable future.

It's so bad it will keep "Modern Family" star Vergara locked up tight in her sexy over-the-top Colombian comedian cliché box.

Seemingly destined to become a late-night punch line, the movie, which plays the "sexy" and "sexless" female stereotypes at full blast, is so bad you'd think it was directed by the worst sort of male chauvinist director.

Not so. Anne Fletcher, the filmmaker behind the Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds rom-com romp "The Proposal," directed "Hot Pursuit." What's more, Witherspoon is one of the producers, and Vergara is an executive producer. This is an equal-opportunity fiasco.

The film opens with a montage of a little blond girl growing up in the back seat of her daddy's police car. Apparently riding along as his good cop was deemed an appropriate substitute for daycare.

The girl grows up to be Officer Cooper (Witherspoon), a dowdy, flat-chested, rule-quoting, evidence room flunky. On the beat, Cooper is best known for mistakenly setting an innocent man on fire with her Taser when she overhears him calling out "shotgun" as he and his friends head to their car. (Given last month's accidental killing by a reserve officer who mistook his gun for a Taser, this loses even the minimal humor the joke started with.)

On the dating front for Cooper, things are even worse.

Cooper's ticket out of the dead-end evidence room is Daniella Riva (Vergara). Riva and her husband are due in Dallas for a grand jury session that will put major drug dealer Vicente Cortez (Joaquin Cosio) behind bars and send the Rivas into witness protection. The law requires Riva be accompanied by a female cop, and Cooper makes Capt. Emmett's (John Carroll Lynch) short list.

The cop and her charge are, of course, oil and water: Riva is flamboyant, flaunting her cleavage and determined to bring along all of her expensive shoes. Cooper is insistent, constantly citing penal code sections for why things must be done just so.

Sound familiar? Writers David Feeney ("New Girl") and John Quaintance ("Ben & Kate") seem to borrow the formula but none of the fun from the Robert De Niro-Charles Grodin riot "Midnight Run," that clock-ticking classic about a cop and perp on the run cross-country.

In "Hot Pursuit," a complicated shoot-out leaves Riva's husband, Felipe (Vincent Laresca), in a pool of blood and the widow's anonymity compromised. There are dirty cops and drug dealers to run from.

And so they do.

This is where the humor and the humanity — opposite types bonding as they discover common ground — should shift into high gear. But only the silliness of the slapstick stunts ramp up. The laughs that are supposed to keep audiences engaged never work because the central characters are hamstrung by rote dialogue and run-of-the-mill situations that are supposed to be funny.

Consider the overused "give the dowdy girl a makeover" segment, which exposes Cooper's oversized white panties but little humor. There is the equally familiar "get out of a tight squeeze by going out a tiny bathroom window" scene. And, naturally, when the two steal a truck, they find out its hunky owner is asleep in the back.

This is the moment in the film when the romance should kick in. Randy (Robert Kazinsky), the guy in the truck bed, is cute, but he's also a felon with an ankle monitor, which theoretically eliminates him in Cooper's dating manual. But he's persistent, so, you know, an awkward flirtation begins.

Ironically, the central conflict that drives all the slapstick action in "Hot Pursuit" has more of a story arc than any of the characters. It involves the complex reasons someone pulled into the drug underworld might turn despite the danger.

For Witherspoon and Vergara, there are no real arcs. Instead, they must work through scenes that represent one humiliation after another. The winner in that category involves a deer head, a roadblock and the requirement that its stars make grunting "deer" sounds.

How bad is it?

There are no words left to describe it.

Twitter: @betsysharkey


'Hot Pursuit'

MPAA rating: PG-13, for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: In general release

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times