Though Patricia Arquette may disagree, Hollywood is currently in a golden age of female-driven blockbusters with a steadily increasing focus being placed upon them. Last year some of the most successful box-office champions were female-led films, such as Maleficent, Lucy and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. In the comedy genre alone, it’s hard not to look towards Paul Feig and his muse, Melissa McCarthy, for pushing boundaries and gaining momentum with the critical and commercial successes in both Bridesmaids and The Heat. This continued awareness has even led to the announcement of an upcoming Ghostbusters film with a roster comprised solely of women. There’s even a female-driven Jump Street/Men in Black crossover rumored to be in the works. With Hollywood on an unstoppable hot-streak, it stands to reason that a screwball comedy pairing Reese Witherspoon with Sofia Vergara is a shrewd business move that should theoretically please audiences and share holders alike. It would be impossible to botch this up, right? Somehow the filmmakers behind Hot Pursuit have found a way to ruin what should have been an easy victory, creating an appalling, humorless film in the process.
Hot Pursuit is one of the laziest comedies to be released in the last several years. There hasn’t been another comedy I’ve attended that had such a quiet, unresponsive audience as Hot Pursuit had. My theater may not have been packed, but there were enough people there that surely some of the “jokes” (and please note that I’m using this term lightly for the remainder of this review) would have landed with at least one or two of the audience members. Instead of laughs and guffaws, the theater was filled with the sound of crickets and disappointment. The audience was so somber that you would think they were watching a subtitled, German expressionist film. The most transparent flaw with Hot Pursuit is that it features a completely mismatched pairing in its two leads. Obviously the filmmakers were hoping for some “odd-couple” magic to liven up a script devoid of any humor. However, it appears someone dramatically overestimated the amount of chemistry between Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, because there simply isn’t any to be found. There are no character dynamics established between the two, providing little-to-no depth or personality to bounce off of one another. The filmmakers are merely satisfied with having the two yell and scream at each other for the majority of the film. There is no straight man, there is no goofball, there is no wisecracker…there are only two loud, shrill and obnoxious leads that quickly wear out their welcome.
Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, Election) is coming off of a great year in 2014. She was poised for greatness having recently produced several top-tier films (Gone Girl) and even being nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in Wild. It is simply mind-blowing to see what a colossal step backwards she has taken with Hot Pursuit. Not only did she choose to star in (and produce, mind you) such a thuddingly unfunny film, but she also gives one of her worst performances as the lead, Rose Cooper. Instead of doing anything minutely interesting, Witherspoon decides to put on an unconvincing Texas drawl and turn up the intensity on her uptight, one-note performance. What’s left is an irritating, unlikeable lead character that’s little more than an outdated caricature, one firmly belonging within a Mad TV sketch.
Sofia Vergara (Modern Family, Chef) doesn’t fare any better. Her character, Daniella Riva, is played without nuance or any sort of thought about her cultural representation. The script abandons her with a sparsely written character forced to rely on her thick accent and angry fits of Spanish for humor. At its very worst, the film desperately tries to squeeze laughter out of her character screaming loudly. Seriously, there is no banter, she isn’t saying anything…she simply screams and the film pauses momentarily for you to laugh. Is this a joke?! Am I supposed to be laughing?!
The script further insults the character and Sofia Vergara’s talent by saddling her with the power of cleavage. Yes, you read that correctly. At several points throughout the film the two leads are backed into a corner, without option and desperate to escape. The solution? You guessed it! Vergara’s sexuality! Her sexuality is used repeatedly as a distraction, complete with leering and objectifying camera angles to showcase her “assets”. Not only is this a lame, grade-school level attempt at humor, but it’s downright sexist and detestable. What is even more shameful is that this film is directed by another woman, Anne Fletcher (The Guilt Trip, The Proposal).
Furthermore, Hot Pursuit seems to operate in a world where nearly all women are bumbling fools and men are arrogant misogynists. Well, that is outside of Cooper’s romantic interest, Randy (Robert Kazinsky) – a good-intentioned criminal who attacked his sister’s boyfriend with a baseball bat after finding out she was being abused. Randy’s backstory is as bluntly stated in the film and is addressed within his first few minutes of screen time. With those two lines of dialogue, we are done learning about Randy. The one “good” man is given no more depth and is as subtle as a hammer. He is a bland, trivial and uninteresting character that is the perfect representation of what Hot Pursuit is as a movie.
The humor in Hot Pursuit is as crass and repellant as the worst films Adam Sandler has to offer. Within the opening minutes of the film we are subjected to an unsavory joke at the expense of a transvestite (the joke simply being that the person is cross-dressing…that is all). There’s also an awkward and desperate lesbian joke involving Jim Gaffigan that had me physically covering my face in shame. Cheap shots are taken at females (including several insipid gags about tampons and lady parts), lesbians, foreigners and the elderly…all making this film feel completely dated and mean-spirited. As a culture we’ve made such great strides in cultural sensitivity and gender equality, which is why Hot Pursuit feels so out of place and time in 2015. If your comedy is going to be offensive and push the boundaries, you at least need it to be funny…and this is the film’s fatal flaw It simply isn’t funny..
I left the theater struggling to find anything remotely positive to say about the film, which was no easy task. There is a minor plot twist towards the end involving Sofia Vergara’s character which was pleasantly surprising…but that’s about it. The only other surprise in store was just how rotten this film is through and through. Hot Pursuit is one of the worst movie going experiences I’ve had in years. I can say without any exaggeration that I didn’t chuckle or laugh at any point during the film. While someone could make the argument that this isn’t my “type” of film, I’d be hard pressed to name anyone for whom this film is for.
If you’re looking for a hilarious, female-driven film, luckily there are plenty of options out there. I could easily recommend Witherspoon’s own Legally Blonde or Election, as well as Bridesmaids and The Heat. Even in the coming month there are several options in theaters, including Pitch Perfect 2 and Spy. It truly is a glorious time for female-led comedy in Hollywood and there are so many fantastic choices for audiences. Hot Pursuit should not be confused with those, and more directly, it should be avoided altogether. I wanted to like this film as there was at least some potential in the concept. I sat in that theater and waited for the jokes. I guess I still am. An insufferable film from start to finish, Hot Pursuit is easily the worst movie I’ve seen this year and will surely pop up on many “Worst of the Year” lists at the end of 2015.