But for the fact that there’s nothing disagreeable about looking at Sofia Vergara, Hot Pursuit would be intolerable. The coming-attractions trailer, which was fun and seemed promising, contained every laugh.
Not most of the laughs, but literally every single one of them. This time CliffsNotes were better than the book.
It’s as if the script never got beyond the idea phase, as if somebody really thought that the concept alone could carry it: Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara in a buddy comedy.
Witherspoon is a rookie cop, and Vergara is a drug dealer’s widow who has to be escorted to a court appearance, despite all the bad guys who want to kill her. If you can say the premise in a single sentence, and it sounds appealing, that’s what they call “high concept.”
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But the problem with this particular high-concept premise is that, in practice, it’s difficult to pull off. It requires finding a tone wide enough yet specific enough to reconcile big laughs with the fact that people are getting killed and that the main characters’ lives are in danger.
This can be done — there’s Beverly Hills Cop, Some Like It Hot and Midnight Run, to name a few examples — but it doesn’t happen by accident.
In Hot Pursuit, the comedy and drama don’t relieve or accentuate each other, but defeat each other.
One example of many: The women need to get past a police checkpoint. If they don’t, corrupt cops will kill them. How will they do it? Well, luckily, they come across a deer skin and a deer head and walk through the bushes adjoining the highway. They pretend to be a deer. And they make deer noises. So what do we end up with? A scene that’s neither tense nor funny, just labored, begging for laughs that never come.
As written, the character of Cooper (Witherspoon) is unfortunate in two ways: She’s a by-the-book automaton, and therefore unappealing, and her judgment is so poor that she hardly seems capable of defending anybody, and so we don’t respect her.
In a pairing of Witherspoon and Vergara, you might expect Vergara to be the funny one. But the script has Witherspoon playing for laughs, and Vergara acting as straight man. The balance is off.
It’s probably also a mistake that Daniella (Vergara) is presented as the widow of the informant and not as an informant in her own right. If she, in fact, does not want to testify, and if the cop seems unable to defend her, then she really should try to get as far away from the cop as possible.
It’s one thing to have a buddy comedy in which the two lead characters start off not liking each other. But, if after a half-hour even the audience doesn’t want the two to become buddies, the movie has a serious problem.
So there’s nothing here to see, except maybe the white dress that Vergara wears in her first scene.
But there is one interesting moment — not interesting so much in itself, but in what it might portend. There’s a scene in which Vergara suddenly becomes formidable, serious and assertive, and the thought dawns: She can do drama. Maybe she’s wasting herself in innocuousness. Maybe a whole other career awaits.
In the meantime, consider this: If the one good takeaway from a comedy is that the lead actress should be in a drama, that says it all.
Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara
Rated: PG-13 (sexual content, violence, mild language, drug material)
Running time: 87 min.