Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hot Pursuit

HOT PURSUIT (Anne Fletcher, 2015)

In HOT PURSUIT San Antonio police officer Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) grew up riding in the back seat of her father’s patrol car, so it’s deeply disappointing for her to be reassigned to run the evidence room after an embarrassing misunderstanding while working in the field. Cooper’s chance to prove herself again arrives when she is paired with a federal marshal transporting a drug cartel’s top lieutenant and his wife to Dallas in preparation for testimony to the grand jury against kingpin Vicente Cortez (JoaquĆ­n Cosio).

Shortly after Cooper and the federal agent get to the home of Felipe and Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), two pairs of killers descend upon it and kill Cooper’s partner and Daniella’s husband. The women escape in the Rivas’ red vintage 1968 Cadillac convertible, but trouble soon finds them when Cooper realizes two of her colleagues were masked assassins at the crime scene and are out to clean up loose ends. They pin the deaths on Cooper and spin the story that she and Daniella are on the run. In reality the two women are reluctant travel companions, as Daniella tries to slip away every chance she gets rather than be delivered to give testimony she refuses to offer.

Buttoned-up, by-the-books Cooper and the high-spirited and volatile Daniella make a classical mismatched pair in a road comedy, but HOT PURSUIT offers little in the way of humorous possibilities for their differences to produce laughs. Director Anne Fletcher and screenwriters David Feeney and John Quaintance focus on getting Cooper and Daniella from place to place at the expense of settling in with the characters. Content to let the co-leads exist as types, neither transcends the simple character descriptions to generate any legitimate comedic combustion or agreement.

Witherspoon and Vergara are up for whatever but don’t have much to work with. Half of the intended humor seems to reside in the accents. Witherspoon’s molasses-thick take on a Texas twang is a distraction. Vergara acts as though directed to crank up her Colombian heritage in a more exaggerated version of her MODERN FAMILY character. With both actresses it’s like the vocal equivalent of flop sweat. Who can blame them, though, when they’re forced into one unfunny scenario after another?

HOT PURSUIT’s regressive portrayals of women in film is more discouraging than its lack of subtlety. Comedy often flows from incompetent actions, but neither Cooper nor Daniella are shown to be particularly capable until the plot forces them to be. The low point comes when the women pretend badly to be lesbians to distract a good ol’ boy who’s about to call the cops on them. Rather than them being funny because they’re unconvincing, the scene plays as one of a few ill-conceived, pandering moments for which embarrassment for the performers is the main reaction.

Grade: C-

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