It feels as though every single summer for the last five or so years there has been at least one mainstream comedy released starring a couple of the best or most beloved actresses of the moment. Whilst I have made it a habit to seek out the offerings of this new trend, it would be fair to say that there have been just as many misses as there have been hits. From seeing just thirty seconds of the trailer for Hot Pursuit, I knew instantly that this summer’s female centric caper had the potential to go either way, so as I entered the theatre I braced myself for either another fun favourite to add to the list, or possibly a gender swapped version of something woefully forgettable like last year’s Ride Along.
Taking its core narrative straight from the pages of the comic buddy movie rule book, Hot Pursuit details a zany couple of days in the lives of Officer Rose Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) and Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), a straight-arrow, somewhat hapless yet well meaning cop and a fiery tempered mobster’s wife who together find themselves both on the run and on the wrong side of the law when a routine transport to testify goes horribly wrong. Though the filmmakers make a half hearted attempt to provide some character empathy and plot depth, the fact of the matter is that the entire narrative is completely inconsequential, with Hot Pursuit’s one and only goal being to throw the two central characters in to tricky situations in hope that uproarious comedy will emerge from them. Admittedly, there is not much wrong with this when it actually comes off (see The Heat, Spy or even Date Night), but unfortunately in the case of this particular picture, an average of only one in every five gags produces the desired response. However, this is not to say that the film isn’t a perfectly acceptable option for something to throw on in the background of a get together with friends, because in the comic elements that do work there are a few genuine laughs to be had, the problem with Hot Pursuit is that it does not match up to many of the similarly themed buddy comedies that sit beside it on the genre shelf. One thing in the picture’s favour is that is does not waste its time with too much exposition or unnecessary bloating. The story, however flimsy and inconsequential, moves at a satisfyingly rapid pace, meaning that the script’s comic misses are quickly forgotten in favour of more humorous moments that follow in quick time. Much of the successful comedy is at the expense is of a broad nature, sometimes slapstick and sometimes risqué, but mostly taken from the checklist of typical 12A certificate gags that run the line of indecent whilst always remaining on the safe side of the fence.
Though on the outset seeming like a combination that had the potential to work, the acting partnership between Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara threatens to ignite in parts but on the whole stays rather flaccid, with the two actresses failing to strike up any kind of truly meaningful connection or rhythm. Witherspoon is tasked with the straight man role to Vergara’s requested and expected loud hotheadedness, and one can’t help but feel that she never feels completely comfortable in the role of Officer Cooper. Whilst the actress flourishes in the playing the lighter, more unassuming side of comedy that films like Legally Blonde utilise, throughout the film it never feels as though Witherspoon has the sturdiness or quiet confidence of a Sandra Bullock or a Melissa McCarthy that she needs to provide a grounded anchor for the narrative. Because of this, the character fails to connect with the audience and most of her comic beats miss their mark. On the other hand, Sofia Vergara as Daniella Riva is essentially playing an extension of her Modern Family character Gloria Pritchett, and for all intents and purposes this means that she is pretty great. Yes, her laughs are gained through language barrier mispronunciations and her voluptuous body is repeatedly used to humorous effect, but the important part is that it works, and she knows it works. Vergara’s conviction of character is much stronger than Witherspoon’s, which whilst being a good thing for the audience as they at least get to have some laughs along the way, ultimately results in an unbalanced partnership that never truly clicks.
Ultimately, Hot Pursuit is a summer comedy that will serve to produce a few cheap laughs and be forgotten before the end of the year. Though it is always nice to see a female driven film given mainstream worldwide exposure, the fact of the matter is that in terms of quality and audience satisfaction, it’s a five out of ten at most, and that is being generous. Fans of Sofia Vergara’s tried and tested brand of comedy will take pleasure in many of her undeniably funny moments, but overall there just isn’t enough quality in the film for me to want to suggest it over several others in a similar mould. Is it awful? No. Is it a must see? Absolutely not.