Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hot Pursuit

1.5/4

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley, Robert Kazinsky, John Carroll Lynch, Benny Nieves, Michael Ray Escamilla, Joaqquin Cosio

Rated PG-13 for Sexual Content, Violence, Language and Some Drug Material

"Hot Pursuit" has got to be the dimmest "comedy" to come along in quite some time.  With its tired plot and jokes straight out of a sitcom, all it needs is a laugh track.  The two leads try so hard to make us laugh that I'm surprised no one was injured.  "Please laugh!" I could hear it say.  "Please!"

And yet, it doesn't want to have any sort of edge.  Director Anne Fletcher, whose resume defines the term "playing it safe" (she directed "The Proposal" and "The Guilt Trip."  Plus one of Katherine Heigl's way too numerous romantic comedies) refuses to allow the film to do anything unusual or surprising.  It's as if she is so afraid of offending the impossibly tightly wound or disappointing those who are expecting something they've seen a zillion times before.  Needless to say, this is not how to do a comedy.

The finance whiz of a drug kingpin has finally agreed to spill his guts to the court of law.  Felipe Riva (Vincent Laresca) and his wife Daniella (Vergara) being escorted by Detective Jackson (Richard T. Jones) to Dallas to testify.  Protocol demands that a female cop escort Daneilla, so Captain Emmett (Lynch) selects Cooper (Witherspoon), a no-nonsense cop who has been in the doghouse after an incident involving a taser (a cutaway gag that sounds a lot funnier on paper than it does on screen).  However, two pairs of assassins off Felipe and Jackson, leaving Cooper and Daniella to go on the run.  As is painfully obvious to anyone familiar with the genre, the high-maintenance trophy wife and by-the-book cop do not get along.  Failed comic hijinks ensue.

In a movie like this, the plot is just a clothesline from which to hang the jokes and comic setpieces from.  That's okay, since a road comedy isn't known for complex narrative and character depth.  The problem is, the jokes aren't funny.  There's about 10 minutes worth of amusing material, and it's not even that strong.  The rest of the film is either a, boring, or b, annoying.

Neither Reese Witherspoon nor Sofia Vergara are at their best here.  Reese Witherspoon, whose charisma matches her considerable talents, is sleepwalking through her role, and it shows.  Given the right material, such as in the little seen "Freeway" or "This Means War," she can be very funny.  But she's just coasting by on her charisma here, and her lack of effort shows.  Sofia Vergara fares even worse.  Although there are times when she shows talent and gets a laugh, more often than not Daniella is just irritating.  She's a whiny, prissy little bitch.   No one else bears a mention except for British soap star Robert Kazinsky, playing a hunky redneck who helps them (and inevitably falls for the romance deprived Cooper).  He's quite good, and he and Witherspoon have a nice chemistry.  Unfortunately, he's only onscreen for 3 scenes.  Side note: why is it that most of the best actors, Robert Pattinson excepting, come from the UK?  Surely there is plenty of great talent here, so why do Julliard graduates keep getting left by the wayside while photogenic but talent deprived models become movie stars?  Not to be xenophobic, but still.

Anne Fletcher's approach is to be as vanilla as possible.  She broadens the jokes to the point where they're DOA, doesn't attempt to raise the adrenaline with the action scenes, and most egregiously, doesn't understand the concept of comic timing.  Some of the jokes would have been funnier with firmer handling.  And as is par for the course these days, there are scenes where the characters never shut up in an attempt to be funny.

While it's not as painful to watch as "Identity Thief," it's bad enough to warrant a comparison.  I think that says enough.

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