FRESH POUR: Hot Pursuit (2015)

Fresh Pour is back! Every week, Clint takes a look at one or two new releases – just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

hot pursuitHot Pursuit
Dir. Anne Fletcher
Warner Bros. Pictures

It must be really hard to get a female-led comedy off the ground. In the last few years, the only people who have really been able to pull it off are Paul Feig and the Pitch Perfect team, really – you have to get that killer combination of great comedic actresses, a script that embraces their strengths without unduly stereotyping them, and tight filmmaking that builds the gags into a cohesive whole. Hot Pursuit has none of those things – it is an anti-comedy of the highest order, a disservice to both of its leads and just a miserable thing to watch.

The setup is classic 48 Hours: A no-nonsense cop (Witherspoon) has to prove her mettle by getting an uncooperative drug cartel witness/trophy wife (Vergara) to Dallas, facing corrupt cops, cartel shooters and angry rednecks along the way. Through gritted teeth, I admit that Vergara and her partner in crime Reese Witherspoon (basically playing Diet, OCD Holly Hunter) can be funny in other stuff – Vergara is only really capable of playing herself, but she puts her bombastic personality to good use on Modern Family, and Election and Legally Blonde should be more than enough evidence that Witherspoon is a gifted comedic actress. In this context, though, the two end up becoming shrill cartoons in silly accents squawking at each other. There’s a reason the straight man/woman is a fixture in comedic duos: you can’t just have both people in the duo be the wacky one, or you want to pull your eyes out. The odd-couple dynamic of the film is, by definition, supposed to help the two characters balance each other out by the end – Vergara becoming more resourceful, Witherspoon more laidback – but they largely stay the same flailing, unlikeable dunces they were at the start.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the film is full of the lamest, if not offensive, non-gags you’ve seen since Friedman & Seltzer or Broken Lizard movies. In the opening minutes, we get a terrible tranny joke (complete with cartoonishly modulated voice), a lumbering foot chase with Mike Birbiglia that turns out to be a botched date, and big men making fun of the lady police officer for being a glorified ‘secretary.’ We even get a “what’s that white powder?” cocaine joke, complete with a subsequent scene where a tweaking Witherspoon talks slightly faster than normal and spouts lolrandom gibberish. Oh, that nose candy!

On top of that, the movie isn’t exactly the most progressive – Witherspoon’s problems are sorted out by a man in the end, and Vergara’s central dramatic conflict literally revolves around a suitcase full of sparkly high heels. The sexist jokes might have been okay if they were just from the villains, but the film itself seems to delight in putting Witherspoon (whom the movie insists ‘looks like a boy’) and Vergara in increasingly humiliating situations based on Vergara’s curviness and Witherspoon’s butch fastidiousness. I mean, I can’t recall the last time I saw a lesbian-panic scene in a movie, but I guess that’s progress? “Hey ladies, you too can have the same terrible, offensive jokes in your buddy comedies as we do in ours. You’re welcome!”

The whole film is a gumbo full of these sorry moments, made even worse by the movie’s attempts to take its plot far more seriously than it should. In between their road-movie babblings, there something in there about Vergara’s dead brother/husband/dad that I’m supposed to care about, but the scenes work as hard as they can to blow past these limp dramatic beats out of a sense of misplaced obligation. Add to that a third-act love interest with an indiscernible accent (best I can tell, he’s an Australian actor trying for Southern, but it ends up a random-word roulette of both of those, with some Transatlantic in the middle to spice things up), and an action-packed climax in the whitest quinceañera ever, and there’s just no connective tissue to grasp onto as the movie barrels towards its undeservedly dramatic conclusion.

As the credits rolled, I was so desperate for laughs I actually felt grateful for the blooper reel, in which Vergara and Witherspoon at least look like they’re having a good time. In one outtake, Witherspoon sarcastically says when a take is stopped for set building, “I’m giving the performance of my life over here” – as if she knows this is her Catwoman after receiving all that Oscar buzz last year for Wild. Yeah, I feel you, Reese. I can’t wait for Legally Blonde 3 either.

While I didn’t have the displeasure of watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, I can’t help but feel a one-two punch of both of these crappy cop comedies would have put me in the ground. While it wasn’t great, at least The Heat benefited from confident direction and a pair of leads with real chemistry and improvisational skills – Hot Pursuit feels like someone watched 48 Hours and Bridesmaids while tripping and got Chuck Lorre to ghostwrite the script.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Hot Pursuit actually makes me look forward to Spy.

Verdict: Skip It! (DEAR GOD SKIP IT.)

Hot Pursuit Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever Reese Witherspoon cites codes, numbers or figures
2) Drink any time Sofia Vergara launches into incomprehensible Spanish
3) Drink every time someone makes fun of a woman for her age, height, femininity, marital status or sexual orientation
Finish Your Drink When:
Reese says, “You just got Cooper’d, bitch!”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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