'Hot Pursuit': Film Review

Not too hot.

Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara are chased through Texas in Anne Fletcher's slapstick female buddy comedy.

Isn't this the sort of nitwit comedy Reese Witherspoon wasn't going to have to make anymore after becoming a producer on the likes of Wild and Gone Girl? A jaw-droppingly klutzy law enforcement farce in the vein of The Heat, albeit deprived of the R-rated raunch and out-there gags, this is a down-home comedy that should have stayed there, as it does no favors to the appealing but ill-served (and poorly photographed) co-stars Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara. This Warner Bros. release will probably hit the target audience of the mainstream girls'-night-out crowd but that's it.

As if she didn't get enough of a road trip on her dim previous outing, The Guilt Trip, director Anne Fletcher takes to the highway again here as straight-arrow cop Cooper (Witherspoon) tries to protect a newly widowed drug dealer's wife, Daniella (Vergara), from all sorts of bad guys on both sides of the law as they careen through Texas in a variety of commandeered vehicles.

A nifty opening montage shows Cooper literally growing up in the back seat of her father's cop car, as she's exposed to assorted predicaments throughout her youth. Then there's an amusing joke about her bad experience courtesy of a “Christian mingle” dating service. But it's all downhill from there, as Cooper's exaggerated obsession with rules and regulations makes her seem like a far less engaging variation on Witherspoon's primly determined characters in Election and the Legally Blonde films.

During a shootout at the drug lord's house, the pinched and bossy Cooper must drag the haughtily glamorous Daniella from the scene, which she won't leave without a suitcase full of fancy shoes. Imperiled by nearly everyone who rolls down the roads as reports describing Cooper as a rogue cop blare from TV screens, Cooper eventually finds a way to exchange her police uniform for a cute red dress, while Daniella discards her form-fitting white number for a black top and tight pants.

But even rudimentary scenes of the women changing or trying to climb haphazardly out of a high bathroom window to escape their pursuers come off just as poorly executed slapstick. Running gags have a little fun with varying insulting newscaster estimates as to Cooper's ever-diminishing height and Daniella's ever-increasing age, but the film is essentially nothing but little and ineffectual bits of recycled shtick with no sense of freshness of invention. And the women never bond in even the most rote or superficial way that's expected in this sort of claptrap.

At no moment in the dire script by TV writers David Feeney (Ben and Kate, New Girl) and John Quaintance (Ben and Kate, Undateable) does anything seem truly at stake. When Cooper's partner is shot in a firefight, for example, she just takes off without even determining whether he's dead or alive. Nor are any of the secondary characters, including a potential love interest for the virginal Cooper, written or cast with an eye for quirkiness, individuality or arresting manner of speech. Watching a few Preston Sturges or Coen brothers films might have at least inspired the writers to push their efforts a little further when it comes to the linguistic possibilities of rural and small-town characters.

Everyone just seems to go through the motions here, with no destination in mind. Witherspoon's last so-called comedy, This Means War, was so bad that she stayed away from the genre for a few years; this outing may well occasion another hiatus. Vergara can't help but look spectacular but isn't done any great favors by the bright lighting and never has a moment to really register her full sexiness.

The once-common practice of showing out-take blunders alongside the end credits is resurrected here. But they aren't funny either.

Production: New Line Cinema, MGM, Foxy/Pacific Standard

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, John Carroll Lynch, Robert Kazinsky, Richard T. Jones, Michael Mosley, Matthew Del Negro, Benny Nieves, Michael Ray Escamilla, Vincent Laresca, Joaquin Cosio, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia

Director: Anne Fletcher

Screenwriters: David Feeney, John Quaintance

Producers: Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon, Dana Fox

Executive produces: Jeff Waxman, Sofia Vergara, Luis Balaguer

Director of photography: Oliver Stapleton

Production designer: Nelson Coates

Costume designer: Catherine Marie Thomas

Editor: Priscilla Nedd Friendly

Music: Buck Damon

Casting: Cathy Sandrich Gelfon, Amanda Mackey

PG-13 rating, 88 minutes