Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara are no Thelma and Louise. They’re no Lucy and Ricky, either, although Vergara’s comedic persona contains elements of both. What they are, as Witherspoon herself establishes in the blooper reel of this by-the-books action-comedy, is two established Hollywood actresses looking to coast on their strengths for a while. That’s not to say they don’t have chemistry: Witherspoon and Vergara are both experienced comedic actors with charisma to spare, and watching them pal around is a perfectly pleasant way to pass some time. But with material this uninspired, 87 minutes of riding shotgun is long enough.
The basic elements of Hot Pursuit could very well be the result of a game of screenwriting Boggle. Witherspoon, playing up her Southern accent and walking with a square-shouldered gait, plays Cooper, an uptight cop whose dedication to the job far outweighs her abilities. She was relegated to the evidence room following a police-brutality incident that’s too toothless to be tasteless, and is driven by the desire to posthumously please her father, a cop killed in the line of duty. In a scene that implies that Cooper may be the only female officer on the San Antonio force, her supervisor sends her on a mission to escort Daniella Riva (Vergara), the wife of a high-ranking cartel member turned state’s witness, to Dallas on her way to enter the Witness Protection Program. Cooper has proven herself incompetent, and Daniella is a flight risk, so why should Cooper be given this task, except that there are no other women around to perform it? That question is irrelevant. What is relevant is this: Will Daniella be a fiery Latina who loves shoes and insulting people in Spanish? Will things go violently, if bloodlessly, wrong almost immediately? Yes, and yes.
Like a dog gnawing on its favorite chew toy, when this movie gets a juicy bit of comic gristle in its jaws, it shakes and shakes and won’t let go. Some of these jokes are amusing enough: A running gag where newscasters continue to decrease Witherspoon’s height and increase Vergara’s age is worth a few chuckles. But none of them are terribly original, and neither is the moral of the film, something about not judging people by their appearances. Some bits just feel lazy, like the multiple references to the mustache that Witherspoon clearly does not have. It doesn’t fit, but the movie keeps doggedly repeating it anyway, presumably because “ugly” girls in movies are supposed to have mustaches. Surprisingly, given director Anne Fletcher’s background directing the choreography-heavy Step Up, both the action scenes and slapstick physical comedy lack frisson.
Vergara and Witherspoon are clearly the draw here, and the supporting cast, including Jim Gaffigan as a gun-toting redneck and Rob Kazinsky as Witherspoon’s love interest, does its job amiably. Despite some PG-13 violence, “amiable” is a good word to describe the film in general; it’s something to go see if you have a couple hours to kill, maybe in between a hair appointment and meeting friends for dinner. With a female director, female stars, and a mostly female producing team—although it should be noted that two men, TV writers David Feeney and John Quaintance, are responsible for all the “periods are icky” jokes in the script—one could champion Hot Pursuit as an example of a film made by women, for women. If one could muster up more than a shrug, anyway.