“He just wanted to sit in the front seat”
Sometimes the most intriguing aspect of a film project is the “why” of its creation. This usually deals with the changing of hands or evolution of scripts as words on the page become spoken onscreen, but every once in awhile the fascination is more abstract. The “why” in these cases becomes a hypothetical question you don’t care to find an answer for because not knowing whether the reason will be acceptable or not is better than definitively knowing it won’t. So when it comes to Hot Pursuit—a mildly offensive nondescript comedy relying on size jokes (heights, bust, and butt) to offset an unearned tonal severity rather than embrace its cheese—my wonderment lies in Reese Witherspoon choosing to be a driving force in its creation.
An Oscar winner one year removed from a Lead Actress nomination for Wild, she inexplicably chooses David Feeney and John Quaintance‘s script to bring to fruition both in front of and behind the camera. The wheels start turning to ask whether or not the original intention was somehow subverted during filming. Maybe we should blame the editor or director Anne Fletcher for using coverage that made a project of worth into an uneven mess that refused to understand its own motivations or purpose. It has to be one of these things because I don’t want to believe Witherspoon simply wanted to cash a check. I know how flippant and dismissive such a statement is, but I don’t think it’s possible to refrain from speaking it.
Only one person in the entire film is on point and that’s Robert Kazinsky as a shoehorned love interest who refuses to distort his playfully over-the-top performance into something else. He’s literally eye-candy for the ladies who buys into lines like “You’re really intense and I like it” with everything he has save winking directly into the camera. He knows what the film he’s signed on to truly is and he has no qualms treating it as such. That’s not to say Witherspoon’s tough cop underdog who isn’t respected or odd couple sidekick in Sofía Vergara‘s wife of a criminal about to testify against a drug cartel don’t. They’re just so wrapped up in thinking the plot actually matters that they lose all semblance of fun.
The filmmakers want us to invest in Witherspoon’s Cooper because she’s one of the “good guys” within a corrupt precinct who happened to make one mistake that made her infamous enough to ride the bench in evidence lock-up. She’s by the book in such an exacting way that nuance is lost on her and the ability to build a relationship platonically or romantically is non-existent. The epitome of a straight man, she’s supposed to be the voice of reason opposite Vergara’s loud, obnoxious Riva yet proves as unaware and out-of-touch. Rather than let us like either or care about their wellbeing, we instead are asked to enjoy their broad stereotypes filled to the brim with bigoted treatments of Latino cultural and Southern cluelessness.
Not only does Hot Pursuit prove utterly boring and obvious (I knew exactly what side everyone was on except for two characters who more-or-less were who I thought they were but just with a hidden agenda), but it also turns out to be unoriginal in its comedy. Everyone has a cartoonish drawl or exaggerated Spanish accent where people who admit to understanding Spanish still somehow joke that they can’t understand the English. Jim Gaffigan‘s Red shows signs of being smart despite the stereotype they present him as until the least sexy lesbian interlude stops him in his tracks and Joaquín Cosio‘s cartel boss Cortez wants nothing more than to be at his daughter’s Quinceañera because that’s the only Mexican celebration Americans know. It’s less bigoted than lazy.
When we hope things will spiral so far out of control that the filmmakers will have no choice but to go fully into farce so we can laugh with them rather than stare blankly at miscued attempts at comedy, everything turns serious instead. I shouldn’t have been surprised since the opening montage of little Cooper growing up in the back of her father’s police cruiser turns from sentimental to devastatingly depressing, but all stakes are removed shortly after. It’s followed by a willfully misinterpreted chase scene, lame jokes that take pains not to be sexist and yet are sexist simply because it’s always a man lobbing them at Witherspoon, and the introduction of a scenario which cements her Cooper as the butt of jokes and nothing more.
Do we care if either she or Vergara’s Riva dies on their adventure to the courthouse? Not really. If anything I wouldn’t have minded if one did because it would have at least thrown a wrench into the by-the-numbers script. Do we care if they become friends? Absolutely not. We don’t want them to because it’s obvious they must. Will Cooper’s pragmatic over-achiever rub off on Riva’s materialistic trophy wife and vice versa? Unsurprisingly the film ends by pretty much saying how great it is to be vapid and beautiful because Vergara remains unchanged while Witherspoon (d)evolves in her direction. Great message for young girls out there, Hollywood. Stop being smart, practical, and career-oriented—you need to “loosen up” and “be feminine”. No thank you.
 Photo Credit: Sam Emerson. Caption: (L-r) SOFIA VERGARA as Daniella Riva and REESE WITHERSPOON as Cooper in the comedy “HOT PURSUIT,” a New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM) release, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Pictures Entertainment Company.
Photo Credit: Sam Emerson. Caption: (L-r) MICHAEL MOSLEY as Detective Dixon, SOFIA VERGARA as Daniella Riva, REESE WITHERSPOON as Cooper and MATTHEW DEL NEGRO as Detective Hauser in the comedy “HOT PURSUIT,” a New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM) release, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Pictures Entertainment Company.
 Photo Credit: Sam Emerson. Caption: ROBERT KAZINSKY as Randy in the comedy “HOT PURSUIT,” a New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM) release, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Pictures Entertainment Company.