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Family Movie Review: Hot Pursuit (PG-13)

HotPursuit ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 99 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. Some cursing, some accidental cocaine use that isn’t depicted in a fun way, some violence (including someone getting tased, a few people getting accidentally set on fire, some gunshots, some murders, and a finger getting shot off) and a subplot involving a murderous drug cartel, a good amount of sexually themed jokes and content (a woman in her bra, some form-fitting outfits, pervasive cleavage, and the two lead actresses kissing and groping each other in one scene where they try to dupe someone), and some overall sexist humor geared against women.

‘Hot Pursuit’ ruins all of the charisma and charm of both Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara with a mundane script, inconsistent characterizations, and some frustratingly sexist moments. Prepare yourself not to laugh.

By Roxana Hadadi

One of Reese Witherspoon’s best roles was the bossy, uptight, and scarily ambitious high school student Tracy Flick in “Election,” but 16 years later, she’s playing a pale imitation of the inimitable Flick in “Hot Pursuit” as the by-the-book but totally un-street-smart Texas cop Cooper. Witherspoon can play up her Southern accent and she can dumb down her prettiness in an ill-fitting police uniform, but she can’t fix the film’s average script, underwritten characters, or frustrating portrayal of female friendships.

Written by David Feeney and John Quaintance and directed by Anne Fletcher (who also directed the unlikely buddy comedy “The Guilt Trip,” with Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, as well as the first “Step Up” movie back in 2006), the film pairs Witherspoon with TV’s highest-paid actress, Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family.” While watching “Hot Pursuit,” you can’t help but think of the similarly cop-themed mega-hit “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, but without nearly as much chemistry and far more egregious flaws. Witherspoon and Vergara each do their own comedic thing, but they never truly gel together. They hate each other and then they like each other, and the switch in loyalty doesn’t feel earned (nor is it particularly memorable).

And a script written by men, for a film about women, that relies on jokes about how menstruation is disgusting and how much women mock each other’s looks? Ehh.

“Hot Pursuit” is told mostly from the point of view of Texas police officer Cooper (Witherspoon, of “The Good Lie”), whose father was a great cop who died in the line of duty; it’s her goal to make him proud in her own career. Although she knows all the police laws and codes inside and out, she’s languished in evidence because of a stupid mistake, and she’s subjected to lots of sexual harassment-like humor from higher-up male cops. But she seems to finally get an opportunity when her boss assigns her to help transport Daniella Riva (Vergara, of “The Three Stooges”), the wife of a cartel informant, to Dallas so her husband can testify; legally, one female cop has to be there for Riva, and Cooper seems to be the only one on the force. “Just try not to get all into your head about it,” her boss says of the assignment, but of course Cooper does. It wouldn’t be in her megalomaniac, nerdy nature not to.

Except for where everything goes wrong once they try to transport Riva and her husband, of course, and the other officer ends up dead, and so does Riva’s husband, and there seem to be two sets of gunmen assassins looking to off Cooper and Riva, too. Determined to deliver Riva safely to Dallas, even though she doesn’t want to testify, Cooper starts them on a road trip that involves a car full of cocaine, a trunk full of bedazzled stilettos, and a series of news reports that paint Cooper as having gone rogue and being in cahoots with the cartel. She needs to clear her name and she needs to get Riva to court – and oh my, wouldn’t it be nice if they ended up becoming friends? That would be just grand.

You can see everything that’s coming in “Hot Pursuit,” and that familiarity isn’t done in any way you wouldn’t expect. There’s a slim message here of not judging people by their appearances, but that theme only pops up in the final few minutes, after the film has already thrown around impressively sexist jokes like having Riva call Cooper “Officer Lesbian,” or continuously mock her for her mustache (when, of course, there doesn’t seem to be even one masculine-seeming hair on Witherspoon’s face), or tease her about the size of her breasts, or call her ugly, or any other insult you can imagine. Because that’s how women bond, you see? They rip each other apart and then when there’s nothing left of each other’s self esteem, they decide to tolerate each other’s presence. Is that really the kind of female friendship we want to see onscreen? Why is that a relationship we should root for?

Plus, there’s also the inconsistent characterization of Cooper, with the film unable to decide whether she’s a genius or an idiot; she spouts off police codes and rules and bylaws without a second thought, but her behavior with other people is so idiotic that you can’t reconcile her traits together into one real person. When she gets a love interest, he ends up a felon, because wouldn’t it be funny if a good cop started having sex with a bad guy? But don’t worry, because his crime was beating up his sister’s abusive boyfriend. How gallant! How chivalrous! Of course they would end up in the back of a cop car together. Of course. (For her part, Vergara is just a fiesty Latina stereotype, naturally.)

It’s most irritating because “Hot Pursuit” handles throwaway lines (a cop aware of Cooper’s goofy mistake in the field, upon meeting her for the first time, mutters, “I thought you were an urban myth”) and running gags (news report throughout the film continuously decrease Cooper’s height while adding to Riva’s age) quite well. But this is also the kind of movie that has Witherspoon say stuff like “I refuse to have a catfight,” and then there of course is a catfight, with women throwing each other around on beds and shoving their cleavage in each other’s faces. “Hot Pursuit” is supposed to be for women, but its sexism is showing.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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