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Hot Pursuit

D: Anne Fletcher / 87m

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Sofía Vergara, John Carroll Lynch, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, Richard T. Jones, Benny Nieves, Michael Ray Escamilla, Joaquín Cosio, Vincent Laresca

After an unfortunate incident involving a taser, San Antonio policewoman Rose Cooper (Witherspoon) finds herself stuck in the Evidence Room. She’s the butt of her colleague’s jokes, and things aren’t helped by her too eager nature and strict adherence to the police manual. But when a female officer is needed to help escort Felipe Riva (Laresca), a member of a drug cartel and his wife to Dallas, in the company of renowned Detective Jackson (Jones), her boss, Captain Emmett (Lynch) gives her the job. When they arrive to collect their witness, they find Riva engaged in an argument with his wife, Daniella (Vergara). While Cooper tries to convince Daniella not to take all her clothes and shoes, two armed men in masks break into the house – one of whom has a longhorn tattoo on his wrist – and start shooting. Then two more armed men show up and during the crossfire Riva is shot and killed. Jackson too is shot, leaving Cooper to get Daniella out of there.

They manage to escape, and though Daniella makes various efforts to get away, Cooper keeps hold of her until she can contact the San Antonio police. Two of her fellow officers, Hauser (Del Negro) and Dixon (Mosley), arrive to escort them back but Cooper notices that Hauser has the same longhorn tattoo that one of the armed gunmen had. She and Daniella evade the two officers, but discover later on that they are both wanted in connection with the deaths at Riva’s home; Cooper is even described as armed and dangerous. Having stolen a truck the two women begin to get to know each other, until they learn that there’s a man in the back of the truck. The man is called Randy (Kazinsky), and he’s a felon with an ankle tag who’ll gladly help them get to Dallas in return for the removal of his tag.

They hole up in an Indian casino for the night, but while Cooper and Kazinsky become closer, Daniella makes another escape attempt. Cooper stops her just as Hauser and Dixon arrive at their room, and thanks to Randy’s help they escape onto a tour bus. Pursued by the two crooked cops, as well as the other two armed gunmen, Cooper and Daniella manage to avoid being captured or killed, but when the bus stops, Cooper finds that Daniella has a plan that doesn’t include testifying against her husband’s boss  (Cosio), but taking a more drastic approach. Daniella gets away, and later, when Cooper is back in San Antonio, Captain Emmett commends her for her work in keeping Daniella alive and tells her to take some time off. But Cooper can’t rest knowing what Daniella plans to do, and set out to stop her.

Hot Pursuit - scene

You’re an A-list Oscar winner who’s just made a movie that features what many critics regard as your finest performance, a true life tale that reminded everyone of just how talented an actress you are. But then, what to do next? Another heavy, emotional drama that might attract more awards for your mantelpiece? An ensemble piece that combines comedy and drama to good effect? Something completely different perhaps, something you’ve never tried before, like a sci-fi movie, or even a horror flick? Of all the options and possibilities, what will be your next choice of movie?

If you’re Reese Witherspoon, then the answer is simple: go back to making the kind of comedy movie where mismatched characters learn to become best buddies during a road trip, and which offers all kinds of humorous encounters for a casual audience to laugh at. For such is Hot Pursuit, a formulaic, sporadically amusing comedy that does just enough to stop itself from being completely predictable, and which coasts along for much of its (admittedly) short running time like a student in detention asked to write out the same lines a hundred times.

There is talent here, but it’s in service to a script by David Feeney and John Quaintance that tries for substance but often resorts to the time honoured tradition of having two women insult each other in shouty voices for its humour – though they’re nowhere near the inspired level of abuse that Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne hurl at each other in Spy (2015). Aside from one visual gag involving a dead deer, and a short sequence involving a severed finger that leads to Witherspoon performing the Heimlich manoeuvre on a dog, Hot Pursuit moves from scene to scene without too much consideration for what’s gone before, or even what’s ahead. A lot of it doesn’t add up, such as Randy’s ankle tag: one minute it’s a way of their being tracked, the next it’s off and chucked in a river. If there’s a dramatic or even narrative need for this to happen, then it’s hard to work out why.

Fletcher’s previous movie was The Guilt Trip (2012), the Rogen/Streisand team-up that nobody wanted, and while Hot Pursuit is better than that movie, she still seems unable to add a level of madcap energy that most movies of this type require in order to succeed. Without the commitment of Witherspoon and Vergara, the movie would be even more difficult to sit through, and it’s thanks to them that it even partially succeeds. Witherspoon is an old hand at this sort of thing, and handles even the daftest developments with a practised shrug and a “let’s move on”, while Vergara doesn’t quite get out from under the role of pampered, shallow sex object (though there does seem to be a competition between the two actresses in terms of who can show the most cleavage).

Rating: 5/10 – if you were to switch off your brain and just go with the flow, Hot Pursuit would prove to be pretty enjoyable, but alas its tired scenario and merely acceptable heroics wouldn’t fool anyone who’s paying attention; not as lame as some other, similar comedies, but not quite the rib-tickler it’s trying to be either.