When diminutive police officer Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) is assigned a simple enough task, everything falls apart, which is not altogether unusual when it comes to assigning Officer Cooper simple enough tasks. She loves her job; she couldn’t think of doing anything else. She was born to be a police officer. It’s just that she has a knack for doing it wrong.
In the new buddy comedy – well, they’re sort of buddies – from director Anne Fletcher, Hot Pursuit, Officer Cooper finds herself on the road across Texas fleeing both the bad guys and a pair of crooked cops while trying to protect the widow of a Columbian drug dealer, Danielle (Sofia Vergara).
Named after the Lynn Anderson country song, throughout the opening credits we see a young Rose grow from year to year while sitting in the back seat of her daddy’s police car. Her childhood is spent listening to her respected father respond to emergencies while she soaks up the language of the law. In fact, once she matures and becomes an officer herself, it’s that official language that seems to annoy everyone around her. Instead of simply stating she’s entering a building, she declares, “I am announcing my entrance into your domicile.” When she tries to be normal and goes on a date with someone she met on-line, the poor guy wisely runs shortly after meeting her. “I expected more from a guy I met on Christian Mingle!” she shouts.
What starts off well – those early childhood moments actually have a certain charm about them – quickly dissolves into the kind of strident, slapdash comedy you feared it might be, except it’s worse. Watching and listening to Witherspoon and Vergara continually bicker, then shout and scream turns out not to be as funny as someone must have thought. Running at a scant eighty-seven minutes, the energy is high, but so, too, is the shrill. There comes a point somewhere around the thirty minute mark when you realize this really isn’t going to get any better, and there’s still another hour to go.
There are two running gags, neither of which makes sense. One is the continual reference to Witherspoon’s moustache, which is odd because there isn’t one, not even a shadow; the other is the joke concerning Vergara’s age. TV news reports keep flashing pictures of the fleeing woman on the screen while describing her as being either forty, then forty-five, then fifty. The joke is there so that we can laugh at Vergara’s indignant reaction, but the humor falls flat as she clearly looks a couple of decades younger. We got the idea when they quoted forty, but as a running gag it needs to be funnier than that
Reese Witherspoon is beyond a doubt an outstanding actor. She can also be very funny. Elected was a performance career high, Pleasantville was a pleasant surprise, she was terrific in the little seen Freeway, and the more obvious comic delivery used in Legally Blonde endeared her to an audience who might have only seen her in her more serious work such as The Man in the Moon or even Cruel Intentions, but she can’t save the ear-piercing, obvious slapstick comedy of Hot Pursuit. And it’s worse for Sofia Vergara. If there’s one thing more obvious than the stupidity of the film it’s the realization that Vergara is not naturally funny. With the right script, sure, and in brief supporting roles, as in Chef, she’s fine, but as a leading player in a comedy, not yet. When Vergara’s Daniella tells Witherspoon’s Cooper, “We made a great team,” you’ll find yourself thinking otherwise.
Originally titled Don’t Mess With Texas, Hot Pursuit is just sad. Plus, the film appears to be the victim of bad timing. Considering current events, jokes about police tasers used with unfortunate results on an innocent victim hardly helps.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 87 Minutes Overall Rating: 3 (out of 10)