Hot Pursuit is an anomalous product in Hollywood, a female-fronted, female-directed action comedy. The easiest comparisons are Paul Feig’s recent films that take a typically male-centric subgenre give it a makeover. Director Anne Fletcher (The Guilt Trip, 27 Dresses) attempts to do for movies like 48 Hours and Midnight Run what Bridesmaids did for raunchy comedies. While there are some hilarious scenes, and leads Reese Witherspoon and Sophia Vergara have a strong chemistry, Hot Pursuit is never much more than a moderately entertaining temporary distraction.
Cooper (Witherspoon) is an uptight, by-the-book cop riding a desk in the evidence room. Daniella Riva (Vergara) is the wife of the guy who is going to testify against a vicious drug lord. Through a convenient plot point (apparently Cooper is the only female cop in San Antonio), Cooper is supposed to transport the witnesses to court, but when a couple of hit squads show up, they go on the run, pursued by the cartel, dirty cops, and framed for a crime they didn’t commit.
Their character dynamic is this: Cooper is short (that becomes a key personality trait) and annoying; Daniella is voluptuous and says words funny. When they don’t fall into these too-shallow characterizations—there are some attempts at backstory that add little to nothing—Witherspoon and Vergara are good together onscreen. This tandem carries the bulk of the weight throughout, and the best laughs, and there is a good amount, stem from that.
The script by David Feeney and John Quaintance, as written, however, is flat and rote. When Hot Pursuit is funny, it’s because Witherspoon and Vergara make it funny, not necessarily because it is that way on the page. The best moments, like an argument, in Spanish, on a bus full of senior citizens, have an improvised scene where the two actors feel like they’re winging it (you actually see bits of this in the gag reel footage during the credits).
And for every funny scene there are those that are painfully, brutally unfunny, like when Cooper is unable to drive and dial 911 at the same time, so she hands the phone to Daniella, who promptly drops it out of a moving car. There’s also a tedious running gag where the two see themselves on news reports, where they keep saying Cooper is shorter and shorter and Daniella is older and older. Wacky hijinks abound.
Hot Pursuit does take a typically male-dominated style of movie and poke it from time to time. All the beats and tropes are present and accounted for, but are skewed just the slightest bit. Some are intentionally subversive, while others become inherently altered simply due to the swapped gender of the leads. In that regard, the movie is a bit fresher than it could otherwise have been, but it’s not enough to elevate the story that is blow by blow exactly the kind of movie it aspires to be. You know when the twist is coming, you know that when the two women appear to bond it’s not quite as deeps as one thinks, the big character reveals come just when you expect, and it takes a predictably serious turn going into the third act.
At its best, Witherspoon and Vergara are able to inject Hot Pursuit with some snappy, bitchy life. A scene when Cooper accidentally ingests a cloud of airborne cocaine, and her tense, anxious personality kicks into hyper-drive during what amounts to a shopping spree through a backwoods mercantile, is undeniably one of the highlights of the film, capturing the spirit of the on-the-run buddy comedies it seeks to imitate. Not every moment hits like this, but the film finds a stride and rhythm near the middle, even with an obvious romantic angle.
But when Hot Pursuit misses, it misses so wide. There’s a tedious faux lesbian moment played up to distract a simple minded redneck man, not to mention the scene where they don the hide of a dead deer to sneak past a police blockade, loudly arguing the whole time. It’s trying to infuse the story with a Hope/Crosby style zaniness and eccentricity, but fails.
Hot Pursuit is soaringly dumb, predictable, and often wearisome. On the other hand, it can also be uproariously funny—though the groans do match, if not outnumber, the laughs. This isn’t something you need to rush out and see in the theater opening night, or at all, but if you happen across it on cable some rainy weekend afternoon when you should be doing other things, it might adequately fill a brief 87 minutes. More than anything, it makes you nostalgic for better movies that follow the same formula. [Grade: C-]