Hot Pursuit: Have you heard the one about the messy period?

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Regarding the new film Hot Pursuit, which rest assured is not good, let me first say that we should applaud studio comedies starring women that are also directed by women. It’s rare in Hollywood these days and it shouldn’t be.

That said, we should by no means applaud Hot Pursuit.  

Reese Witherspoon is Cooper, an OCD Texas cop with an embarrassing track record on the force — she tasered the Mayor's son when she heard the word "shotgun" on a patrol and was unfamiliar with its colloquial usage. As Variety critic Andrew Barker elegantly distilled: "If there’s anything more timely in 2015 than trans jokes, it’s police-brutality slapstick."

Cooper is nonetheless tapped to escort the glamorous wife of a drug dealer from San Antonio to Dallas, where she’s slated to testify against a notorious cartel boss. 

Cooper rescues Mrs. Riva (played by the voluptuous Sofia Vergara) from a shootout, and then they hit the road, eluding both cartel tough guys and corrupt cops en route to the courthouse. Their Texas journey is filled with all the stereotypical backwoods side characters you’d expect — gun-wielding livestock dealers, clueless truckers, glowering tattooed hitmen — and a lot of mediocre physical comedy. 

More (if not most) prominent among the film's problems, though, is the lack of natural chemistry between the film's two leads, which was frankly unexpected. They've got a few courtesy-laugh moments, but neither Witherspoon nor Vergara are on the order of talents like Melissa McCarthy, who improvise scenes with both raunch and heart as a matter of procedure.

Witherspoon is actually an underrated comedic performer but Vergara is a one-trick pony — she's playing her Modern Family character in a much more tone-deaf script — and they both suffer in scenes that rely on the repetition of easy, "lady" jokes. Hidden objects in the bustier? Biologically precise descriptions of menstrual activity? "Chestal area" seduction?  You got it, folks. 

And unless I was misled by the blooper real, Witherspoon and Vergara didn't seem to be having an inordinate amount of fun during the filming process.  Many of their over-the-top moments feel forced, inorganic. It's indicative perhaps that in the outtakes, Witherspoon and Vergara never riff on or completely invent their lines; they ask for them.    

Plus there are front-end questions: Like why cast British actor Robert Kazinsky as a rural American ex-con? To say nothing of the fact that his attraction to Witherspoon's rule-citing policewoman in the film's tail-spinning second half is without origin or motive, listening to the poor guy approximate a southern twang is torture. 

At only 87 minutes though, and at PG-13, Hot Pursuit is a painless pill to swallow. (Apologies in advance for giving it a treatment that no one seems to think comedies deserve). Please know that if nothing else, it's a decent, low-risk option for girls' night. 


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