‘Hot Pursuit’ Review: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Hot Pursuit Sofia Vergara Reese Witherspoon

At their zenith, motion pictures are used to illuminate. Audiences pay for their ticket, sit down, watch the flickering screen, and become newly aware of the world around them. So thank you, Schindler’s List, for shining that stark light on the holocaust. Thank you, Citizen Kane, for revealing the inherent fallacy of the American Dream. And thank you, Hot Pursuit, for proving once and for all that we need better roles for women in Hollywood, because if Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara can’t find better material than this, then the whole entertainment industry has gone horribly wrong.

It’s easy to joke, but don’t tell that to the makers of Hot Pursuit, who spent months and months and millions of dollars producing a broad comedy without a single effective gag. The plot for this female buddy comedy is a solid foundation on which to build amusing characters and wacky set pieces. But something happened between the initial brainstorming session and the release of Hot Pursuit that leaves the whole structure ramshackle. 

Reese Witherspoon Hot Pursuit

In fact, the structure topples mere minutes into the film, after an extended prologue which shows Officer Rose Cooper (Witherspoon) growing up in the backseat of her father’s patrol car, sitting next to the hardened criminal element on a daily basis. The rest of the film pokes fun of the fact that Cooper has literally memorized the letter of the law but completely lacks personal experience, even though the movie went out of its way to demonstrate that she has decades of firsthand know-how. 

But making Cooper an experienced and confident officer would rob Hot Pursuit of its many jokes at her expense, including but not limited to her ignorance, lack of femininity, diminutive height and choice of sensible shoes. One might imagine that a by-the-book character like Cooper would be given an opportunity to grow. Instead, it concludes with her embrace of impractical footwear; the movie wears her down until she no longer has any confidence in her own life choices, doing her job in stiletto heels which will endanger her safety as an uncomfortable compromise to Hot Pursuit’s many bullies.

Hot Pursuit

The plot follows Cooper as she escorts a drug cartel witness to the courthouse, dodging the bullets of hardened assassins and corrupt cops by making them uncomfortable about women’s periods. Somehow these men grew to be middle-aged without ever once learning the facts of life, which Cooper and her witness, Daniella Riva (Vergara), exploit by detailing the hard science of menstruation, grossing the bad guys out so much that they drop their guard and let them go.

It’s tempting to say that Hot Pursuit turned its male characters into juvenile grade school bullies (with guns) in an ineffective but admirable attempt at feminism. Certainly the story sets both Cooper and Riva up as women who have been grievously underestimated by the patriarchal systems in which they individually operate, i.e. law-enforcement and organized crime. But any honorable stab at empowerment is efficiently undermined by the non-stop deluge of insulting non-jokes, turning Cooper into a sexless ice queen, and Riva into a shrill harpy whose overt femininity and ethnicity are merely the butt of more uncomfortable punchlines. 

Sofia Vergara Reese Witherspoon Hot Pursuit

Maybe it would be enough to say that Hot Pursuit is a 100% effective cure for laughter, but that would do a disservice to the genuine tragedy of this production. That two impressive performers have been reduced to starring in misshapen, haphazard material like this is the real crime, no matter how much cocaine explodes on the screen. Hot Pursuit is a sad, sorry film that could very well come to represent the absolute nadir of its genre. It’s joyless, humorless, powerless and insidious. If only the filmmakers had exercised their right to remain silent.

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William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.