Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Anne Fletcher
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, John Carroll Lynch, Richard T Jones, Joaquin Casio, Jim Gaffigan, Benny Nieves, Michael Ray Escamilla, Mike Birbiglia.

Not to be confused with the 1987 comedy of the same name that starred a young John Cusack, this unoriginal and lacklustre action comedy is largely a female centric variation on the odd couple on the run, buddy cop, road movie formula that has driven films like the superior Midnight Run and 48 Hours and their like. The patchy and cliched script comes from tv writers David Feeny (sitcoms 2 Broke Girls, According To Jim, etc) and John Quaintance (Joey, etc), and offers up little that we haven’t seen before.

Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon, making a rare return to comedy) is an uptight, officious and by-the-book police officer. As the daughter of a legendary police officer she was always destined to become a cop. But following an ugly and humiliating incident involving a taser and setting the mayor’s teenage son on fire, she has been demoted to manning the evidence room at police headquarters. And her name has also become something of a joke amongst law enforcement circles.

But she is given a chance at redemption when her captain (John Carroll Lynch) assigns her to accompany federal marshall Jackson (Richard T Jones) on a routine mission to escort Felipe Riva, an informant, and his wife to Dallas to testify against a powerful head of a drug cartel before they disappear into the witness protection program. But when the pair arrive at their home they discover a bickering couple having second thoughts. But before they can smooth over the anxiety, two different sets of armed hitmen burst into the home, guns blazing. The marshall and Felipe are killed in the gun battle.

Cooper flees with Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara, from Modern Family, etc), a hot tempered Latina who seems more concerned about her jewel encrusted high heeled shoes than her own safety. Cooper and Daniella hit the road in Riva’s fire engine red convertible, pursued by corrupt cops and cartel hitmen. Cooper and Daniella spend most of the time bickering, squabbling and occasionally coming to blows. Along the way, cars will be destroyed, hotels shot up, and a couple of reputation will be sullied.

A running joke throughout the film comes from news broadcasts updating the hunt for the two fugitives – each time the announcer lowers Cooper’s height and raises Daniella’s age. Cooper softens up her hard nosed attitude when she finds an unlikely hint of romance with Randy (Robert Kazinsky), a felon on the run.

Like the recent The Heat, the action is largely driven by the two female leads, while most of the male roles come across as bland stereotypes. Witherspoon is a big advocate for strong female roles in film, so it’s difficult to work out what she saw in this piece of nonsense which panders to male fantasies of female stereotypes.

Witherspoon has been very good in comedic roles before (the sharp Election, and her breakthrough role in Legally Blonde) but lately she has moved away to more dramatic fare, with an Oscar winning turn in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line, deglamourised roles in the indie drama Mud and Devil’s Knot and the physically demanding Wild, as well as small but effective roles in darker dramas like Inherent Vice. Here she returns to more cartoonish physical comedy, and there are plenty of jokes at the expense of Cooper’s diminutive size and her intense and officious manner.

Vergara, who is very good on Modern Family, plays the fiery, sultry and quick tempered Latino firebrand well, but her role here is rather shrill and grating, and hardly a stretch for her. There is some good chemistry between the two that does elevate the material on occasion, but it is not enough to salvage this turkey.

Hot Pursuit has been directed in rather hamfisted and heavy handed fashion by Anne Fletcher, a director better known for her lightweight mediocre romantic comedies like 27 Dresses, The Proposal, etc, rather than action comedy like this. Her pacing flags at times, and sadly the genuine laughs are far and few between.

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