Throwing two characters together on a road trip is one of those ideas Hollywood’s used so much, it risks becoming a cliché. But it’s still done because there are plenty of cases where the result is cinematic gold. In the case of Hot Pursuit, though, it’s more like some sort of knockoff, bargain basement gold wannabe. Running for only 87 minutes but feeling significantly longer, Hot Pursuit pairs up comedic talents Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara and attempts to coast on the charisma of both stars.
The story, mired in predictability, comes across as the result of something the Family Guy writers might come up with in one of their less offensive efforts. Witherspoon plays Cooper, an uptight cop who takes her training in law enforcement way too seriously. After a police brutality incident involving Tasering a teen for yelling “shotgun” on a car ride – which, quite frankly, is rather benign when compared to examples making headlines right now – she’s relegated to the evidence room. She gets an apparent shot at redemption (or else, she’s the only female officer in San Antonio) when her supervisor sends her on a mission to escort Danielle Riva (Vergara), the wife of a cartel member testifying against his boss, to Dallas as part of her entry into the Witness Protection Program. What could possibly go wrong?
Don’t worry. On the off chance you can’t guess, the film’s all too eager to clue you in on anything and everything that might stand in the way of Cooper and Riva.
Hot Pursuit isn’t completely devoid of laugh-inducing moments. One running gag finds Cooper’s height decreased and Riva’s age increased every time a newscaster talks about the pair (a joke that’s already played to death in the trailers, so I don’t consider that a spoiler). But the jokes are lazy, and sometimes not even sensical (see: Riva’s repeated mentions of Cooper’s very much non-existent mustache). And while the film may be headlined by women and directed by a woman, some of the film’s female-centric “jokes” (hint: they involve periods and faux-lesbian action) feel like they come from the minds of uninspired men (see: screenwriters David Feeney and John Quaintance). Then again, the point of the story isn’t even readily apparent. If I had to guess, it’s something along the lines of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but that may be giving the screenwriters far more credit than they deserve.
It’s a shame, because there is a version of this film that might work. Witherspoon and Vergara are both undeniably talented, and they’re the draw here. The supporting cast is filled with vaguely familiar faces, all of whom give performances that are fine, if unexceptional. By letting the screenplay go wild, though – maybe by aping The Heat‘s R-rated sensibility, for example – the film could do more than coast by on its stars. Hot Pursuit is one of three major comedies being released this summer both starring and focusing on women, and while that progress in general is great, this doesn’t exactly feel like the progress we need on screen.