MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Hot Pursuit’ Runs Out Of Gas

Film: Hot Pursuit
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sophia Vergara
Directed by: Anne Fletcher

Clocking in just under 90 minutes in length, Hot Pursuit is quick and almost painless, but never all that funny.

Hollywood has a long love affair with films that pit two people with completely different personalities in a life or death situation, and more often than not one of those characters is an officer of the law. For Hot Pursuit it’s Reese Witherspoon who dons the signature blue uniform of the law, while Modern Family star Sophia Vergara fills in as the loud mouth and often crass wife of an ex-cartel member who has agreed to testify against his former boss in the city of Dallas. What should be a simple ride from point A to point B quickly becomes a battle for survival, as hitmen arrive to prevent the couple from traveling, and amidst the chaos our two leads are forced to find a way to work together if either wants a chance at making it home alive.

Hot Pursuit is neither The Heat nor Thelma And Louise, but you never quite shake the feeling that is exactly the kind of film this feature wants to be. Aside from the characters’ history and a few gags related to their personalities, of which only a few are truly funny, most of what takes place in this film has been done before (often with far better results). You’ve seen the zany car chases, the problems that always arise from handcuffing yourself to another person, and you can definitely recall more than a handful of films that featured alpha male Texans who ‘don’t take too kindly’ to things not going as planned. You’ve seen it all and you’ve almost certainly seen it executed in a more entertaining way than how it’s presented in this film.

The film’s one saving grace is the cast, especially the leads, who fully commit to a film that feels more like an extended TV pilot than the type of feature to hit two-thousand screens — if not more — in its opening weekend. Witherspoon’s turn as Officer Cooper, a nutty pipsqueak with a deep knowledge and respect for her career, is memorable even if the jokes that come out of her mouth only land half the time. Likewise, Vergara’s role showcases the many sides to her comedic talent, even if she is essentially playing every character she’s done before, only now with her attitude turned up to an almost cartoonish level. The bit players work as well, including the all too brief appearances from Mike Birbiglia and Jim Gaffigan. It’s, again, hard to understand why either would fall for this story on paper, but their signature wits help make their characters stand out from otherwise dull sequences.

Director Anne Fletcher, while perfectly capable of handling exposition sequences, struggles to keep things smooth once elements of action come into play. That is forgivable as such moments are largely rare, at least as far as big sequences are concerned, but also because she knows how to capture the chemistry between Witherspoon and Vergara in such a way that it can, at times, make you overlook everything that isn’t working in the film. Writers David Feeney and John Quaintance deserve credit for this as well, as their dialogue comes to life when it focuses on the relationship between the two leads. They even mix Spanish and English, often without the use of subtitles, but the scenes where those exchanges occur work so well you never think twice about their absence. You know whatever is being said is probably offensive, at least on some level, and the delivery alone is often enough to make you chuckle. Sadly, those moments are the only time the film delivers in a comedic way.

There is no doubt that Hot Pursuit is coming out this particular weekend to play as an alternative viewing option for people who don’t care to see, or who have already seen, Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Considering the fact almost nothing released since Furious 7 has generated any kind of action at the box office, there is an opportunity for any film with a decent cast and easily accessible premise to ride the cape tails of superheroes into box office glory. The $35 million spent on Hot Pursuit will be recouped even if everyone who sees it tells their friends it wasn’t all that great. There is no risk to this film coming out, even though it’s not all that great, and that is one of the more frustrating aspects of the film industry today.

2015 has been a horrible year for comedy so far. With the exception of one or two titles that delivered memorable laughs (The Duff), almost every major studio attempt at comedy has been DOA. Wedding Ringer was okay (depending who you ask), but Get Hard, Paul Blart 2, Mortdecai, Superfast, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Unfinished Business, Home Sweet Hell, and now Hot Pursuit have all delivered hit-and-miss yuck fests with little to no original ideas whatsoever. They’re underwhelming efforts from beginning to end, and until audiences start demanding more from their comedies I fear this chopped together display of notable talent being underutilized may be as good as it gets for mainstream funny for the foreseeable future. That is a terrifying notion, but until something proves otherwise…it’s the way things seem to be.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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