Movie review: Lively characters, weary jokes in Hot Pursuit

Reese Witherspoon is likeable as Texan cop Rose Cooper. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Reese Witherspoon is likeable as Texan cop Rose Cooper. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Review Comedy

HOT PURSUIT (NC16)

88 minutes/Now showing/

2/5

The story: Strait-laced Texan cop Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) is assigned to escort mob wife Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara) to court, so she can testify against a Mexican cartel kingpin. But a shooting occurs and soon the pair are on the run, in fear of both the police and the cartel.

There must be dozens of odd-couple road-movie comedies. Some are funny, many are not, and this one falls with a wet plop into the second category.

The fault does not lie with leads Witherspoon and Vergara, who turn in energetic performances.

Rather, it lies with director Anne Fletcher, helmer of hits such as Step Up (2006), 27 Dresses (2008) and The Proposal (2009), as well as the odd flop (The Guilt Trip, 2012).

Fletcher comes from that school of Hollywood directing that believes that comedies are based on verbal jokes, blasted at the viewer with bazooka intensity.

That sitcom-style approach, when wedded to a script devoid of invention, spells boredom.

When Rose and Daniella argue, it is all hot-blooded hysterical Spanish jabbering versus the monotone of uptight Anglo. It is bizarre that in these times, when nearly half of Texas has some Hispanic ancestry, Daniella and her culture are viewed as comically abnormal.

When the joke is physical, that is when viewers see two women having a screaming fist fight, or struggling to climb out a window while clambering on each other's backs.

And where, you might ask, is that other standard female comedy scene, in which our leads ingest drugs by accident, after which they flail around in public while puzzled bystanders look on? Don't worry, it is all there.

These segments play out with a grim inevitability, disconnected from a world in which things such as irony, satire, self-awareness and visual comedy exist.

The film is co-produced by Pacific Standard, co-founded by Witherspoon to create strong leading parts for actresses. The label behind award-winning serious work such as Wild (2014) and Gone Girl (2014) is behind this feature.

It seems that Witherspoon's company, for all its lofty goals, buys into the common belief that dramas are art, but comedies are junk food.

The most that can be said of this is that it shows a great deal of affection for its female characters, but then again, an absence of misogyny should be accepted as a baseline, not as a mark of distinction.

Witherspoon's extremely likeable personality and Vergara's spot-on comic timing cannot save this collection of tired gags from being tossed into the bin of recycled ideas, from which it must have first crawled out.