HOT PURSUIT Review: One Hot Mess

Consider it another nail in the Bechdel test coffin.

Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon seem to be having a grand time promoting Hot Pursuit, but their on-screen chemistry is nil in this extraordinarily tedious comedy.

As Officer Cooper, a well-meaning cop who's been banished to the evidence room after tasering a teen, and Daniella Riva, the widow of a drug lord, Witherspoon and Vergara have taken the most extreme versions of their media personalities and funneled them into roles that are neither funny nor subversive. In a giant convertible, Cooper and Riva travel towards Dallas, where Riva will testify against the kingpin who ordered the hit on her husband. As they zoom along, they encounter your typical road-trip characters, including a sexy felon with a heart of gold and a hick who's just distracted enough by a faux-lesbian act they cook up as a cover that he shoots off his finger.

Vergara's character is a jumble of Latina stereotypes, but the few attempts to surprise us with her character fall flat. It's supposed to be some huge comeuppance when Daniella outfoxes Cooper, but these developments only reveal the most garden-variety canniness and, ultimately, lazy writing. The big reveal that Daniella isn't just a curvaceous babe with a taste for the good life is more like a shrug. As for Cooper, she needs to get laid, just like every other uptight female character ever, from high-powered execs to middle-aged moms and everyone in between. We don't have to listen to the two women squawk at each other like deranged cockatoos for the entire movie to understand that assumptions are bad and that, as women, we're our own worst enemies.

This is bro humor at its worst, where writers David Feeney and John Quaintance offer the most tentative nods to misogyny and racism but somehow think just pointing these things out gets them a pass at taking advantage of them instead of subverting them. A throwaway scene with an African-American trans sex worker is supposed to illustrate just how naïve young Cooper is, but it's the sort of clunky, stomach-sinking humor that was never particularly funny, and has never been less funny than it is in today's political climate. While there's not usually a particularly great time for comedies about cops that are hapless, destructive dorks (see also 2014's Let's Be Cops), it feels especially discomfiting to see a police officer freak out and taser someone until they catch on fire because the teen called "Shotgun!" It's the type of humor that punches down instead of up; there's just not enough self-awareness in Hot Pursuit to make it work.

It's not as if Hot Pursuit was made in a vacuum; The Heat was a successful female-led buddy movie that included jokes about foundation garments and being a crazy cat lady without totally pandering to the lowest common denominator. It also didn't hurt that The Heat's writer Katie Dippold and director Paul Feig weren't squeamish about actually making an action movie. Anne Fletcher made her directorial debut with Step Up, then went on to make 27 Dresses, The Proposal and The Guilt Trip, each of which was successively better. It's just hard to make a movie work when it feels like all of the air has been sucked out of the room by poor writing and pacing.

If Wild was Reese Witherspoon's down-and-dirty Oscar bid, then what the hell is Hot Pursuit? How does this fit into Pacific Standard's modus operandi? Diversity behind the camera doesn't mean anything when the final product isn't any good. The fact that Hot Pursuit passes the Bechdel test proves, if anything, why that’s no longer (and was never really intended to be) the yardstick for onscreen female empowerment.