Published Aug 11, 2015After the success of the female buddy comedy, The Heat, it was only a matter of time before movies like Hot Pursuit started popping up. It's entirely a studio creation, assembled from demographic research and pie charts, combining the comedic box office track record of Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, Election) and the cross-cultural appeal of Sofia Vergara (Modern Family, various furniture and eyewear brands) to draw in as wide an audience as possible. And, to ensure populist engagement and stick with the "girl power" theme, they hired The Proposal director Anne Fletcher to oversee it all with her trademark lack of vision and generalized blandness.
While there's nothing ostensibly wrong with this motivator (at least a movie is being directed by a woman about two women), there's something very forced about this uninspired comedy. It's trying desperately to be The Heat — sadly, a PG-13 version, which is part of the problem — but doesn't have the inherent sensibilities or the gusto to make it work.
The basic storyline finds the uptight Rose Cooper (Witherspoon), a fledgling detective stuck in the evidence room, stepping out of her comfort zone and into the line of fire when a routine witness protection gig leaves her and Daniella Riva (Vergara), the flashy and abrasive widow of a drug lord, on the run from corrupt detectives. As expected, highly implausible situations surmount, forcing the odd couple to argue, bond, engage in faux-lesbian molestation, dress up like wildlife and straddle each other in the driver's seat of a speeding bus. It's all quite zany and rarely makes much sense.
By sheer merit of construct, the success of this mediocre off-season comedy depends almost entirely on the two leads. The plot is all unlikely double-crosses between secondary characters without any development or context, which leaves the road trip dynamic and the endless array of bizarre scenarios involving Witherspoon and Vergara to keep the audience engaged.
To be fair, both actresses do a reasonable job trying to sell the comedy as written and framed. Witherspoon has a knack for playing type-A characters and demonstrates a genuine lack of vanity here, submitting to gags about looking like a young boy and having a moustache. Similarly, Vergara does what she does best — yelling, animated incomprehensible rants and cleavage — which is exactly what the tacky script and the film demands of her. And since the comedy is often a tad too America's Funniest Home Videos for its own good, Fletcher — who has a choreography background — rests on movement and physical comedy to enliven what's otherwise a mostly middling, expository dud with more ineffective set pieces than strong ones. This means that the actresses are regularly groping each other and rolling around for a cheap laugh.
In the Blu-ray supplements, Vergara and Witherspoon discuss the physical demands of the shoot with candour (Vergara jokes that Witherspoon probably won't win another Oscar for this one), which explains why their interactions actually work to moderate effect on screen. Even when the gags are stale and the action incoherent, there is still humour in their basic dynamic and ego-less approach. Still, the outtakes are often funnier than what made the cut of the movie, if only because Vergara has a fantastically tactless sense of humour (remember the rape joke she made on The View?), which suggests that there probably should have been a rewrite or two and a little more flexibility with ad-libbing.