Broad Comedy Has Never Been Broader
DIRECTED BY ANNE FLETCHER/2015
There are some who might find the new Reese Witherspoon/Sofía Vergara comedy Hot Pursuit to be a perfectly viable waste of time. But I didn’t think it was so hot.
Before the movie’s advance screening, the token hired security guard stepped in front of the screen, his blazer snug and ready for action, and made the announcement usually reserved for the Big Important Highly-Anticipated movies: “No cell phone use during the movie! If we see your phone turned on, you’re OUT!” By the thirty minute mark of Hot Pursuit, I was seriously considering putting his threat to the test.
Actually, I bring up the ridged security guard because he reminded me of a real life version of Witherspoon’s character in the film, police officer Cooper. Cooper has, for all intents and purposes, been a cop all of her life. The very first thing that the film shows us is Cooper essentially growing up in the back seat of her cop dad’s squad car during his patrols. While this may be her well-meaning father’s way of spending quality time if also potentially foisting them into danger, the end result is a chronically single by-the-book female police officer who communicates in dispatch code numbers, embraces “standard issue” everything, but can’t get a second date. The guys say she’s “kind of intense”.
“Hot Pursuit” is the all-too-rare female buddy comedy that nonetheless makes a mockery of the hallowed Bechdel Test, dragging it’s qualification of two female characters discussing something other than men through the mud.
Cooper is assigned to leave her cozy digs in the police station evidence room, and transport Riva to safety. It’s got something to do with her husband’s criminal case and the Federal Witness Protection Program. Anyhow, the whole thing proves to be a set-up, forcing Cooper and Riva on the run together – unlikely allies framed for a crime they seeem incapible of having committed. All this nonsense could be explained away to the right authorities in ten seconds, but between cell phones getting destroyed and cars getting smashed, it’s police check-point dodging for these defiant ones.
As they bicker their way back to justice, Riva spends most of her time insulting Cooper’s “boyish” looks. It’s the action comedy equivalent of all those 90’s teen movies telling us that a cute girl was an ugly duckling because she wore glasses and a ponytail. I’m sorry, Witherspoon is not unattractive here. If she’s supposed to be, then that asset is yet another failure for Hot Pursuit.
Witherspoon’s choice to follow up her Academy Award nominated turn in Wild with this cardboard effort, all the while doing a half-note impression of Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona, is a lamentable, confounding one. She recently spent the past Film Awards Season enjoyig the fruits of her having shepherded the films Wild and Gone Girl to the screen, not to mention having appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. After meticulously climbing the ladder of respectibility – and in large part succeeding – in order to shed her reputation as star of umpteen devoid rom-coms via her, she’s volunatrily hopped on the chute right back down to square one. Well actually, for Witherspoon, square one was Alexander Payne’s Election. So this is a far, far worse fate.
Unfortunately, the news for Vergara is worse. Hailing from the popular sit-com Modern Family, her obvious assets are thrust in our faces while her mouth won’t stop running. The idea is that, just beneath the surface of her character’s cliched Columbian firiness and her tropy wife vapidity (insisting on dragging a heavy crate of designer shoes through the entire on-the-run adventure), there may lurk a deeper woman, a smarter woman, a woman with heart. That’s what we’re supposed to be thinking and hoping for. I didn’t see it.
What I did see was a woman who is loved more by the movie’s wardrobe department than the camera. Vergara simply doesn’t have the big screen chops here. Her performance is nothing but overworked facial expressions, telegraphed insults, and dialed-up re-actions. All curves and deep voice, Vergara is Hot Pursuit‘s Jessica Rabbit, but with more screen time and irritiable presence. While both actresses are partially to blame for the film, it’s primarily Vergara that solidifies Hot Pursuit as skipable “sit-com cinema” – a term I’d glady apply here more readily, if it weren’t such a disservice to the word “cinema”.
Hot Pursuit is the all-too-rare female buddy comedy that nonetheless makes a mockery of the hallowed Bechdel Test, dragging it’s qualification of two female characters discussing something other than men through the mud. Although it’s a female-led comedy/action endeavor (directed by Anne Fletcher of 27 Dresses fame) the scarce likes of which is only able to evoke comparisons to 2013’s The Heat (starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthey), it lacks that very element that both titles tout: Heat. Or even residual warmth. The movie is simply annoying.