Microwaveable Movies: ‘Hot Pursuit’ is all there, but it has no flavor

What is it about Reese Witherspoon that makes me think she’s just the most adorable film star? It’s the rarest of circumstances when I can look at her and not grin from ear to ear. There’s something about those pink cheeks and sweet smile that makes you want to give her a hug. If she had any business sense, she’d have her likeness made into a plush toy … imagine how much brighter Christmas would be finding a squeezably soft Reese Witherspoon doll under your tree?

Witherspoon might just want to think about that merchandizing opportunity, since I’m thinking she’s not going to make much money on her latest film, Hot Pursuit, in which she co-stars with Sofia Vergara (from “Modern Family”).

Watching her in Hot Pursuit was that rare circumstance mentioned above, because I found myself not smiling a lot , which is unfortunate, because there’s a rumor going around that it’s a comedy.

There’s nothing especially wrong with Hot Pursuit, besides it not being funny. You’d swear you’d seen the movie before … or the story perhaps as an episode from some television show.

Captain Emmett (John Carroll Lynch) is not enthralled by what he sees, nor are cinema fans likely to be.

Captain Emmett (John Carroll Lynch) is not enthralled by what he sees, nor are cinema fans likely to be.

It seems that Hollywood has perfected an app that churns out scripts, and you might delude yourself into thinking that one upside of it being so formulaic would be at least they’ve figured out how to make it funny. No such luck.

Reese plays police officer Rose Cooper, the daughter of a deceased, highly decorated policeman. She grew up worshiping her dad and now strives to be the best darn tootin’ cop she can be. This alienates her from fellow officers, who find her intense, by-the-book policing scary. Cooper’s also achieved notoriety for accidentally Taser-ing the mayor’s son, which resulted in her being confined to work the evidence room in the police station’s basement.

So ya gotcher seriously serious cop; now all you need—per the Hollywood app formula—is a comedy foil her exact opposite.

Enter Vergara in six-inch platform shoes, a dress so tight you can see her pancreas, and an over-the-top, voluble, ferocious manner. She plays Daniella Riva, the wife of a member of a drug cartel who is going to testify against the big crime lord.

As Cooper’s first assignment out of the evidence room, she’s suppose to escort Riva to the federal courthouse where her husband will deliver the goods on the boss.

But wouldn’t you know, just as Cooper gets to Riva’s house, two rival gangs break in and murder the husband. Cooper now has to drag the extremely unwilling Riva away from danger and get her to federal authorities for safe keeping.

And then there follows 87 minutes of Reese and Sofia traveling the highways and byways of Texas, avoiding gangs and bent coppers, but mostly getting on each other’s nerves: Reese doesn’t approve of Sofia’s emotional extravagance; Sofia doesn’t understand Reese’s robot-like behavior. What could possibly go wrong?

You can practically hear writers David Feeney and John Quaintance at the pitch meeting in some studio bungalow. “… and then a big truck hits their car that … they didn’t realize this … is filled with cocaine, which covers Reese. Pretty soon she’s as high as a kite and can’t stop talking … people will be peeing from laughing too hard! And then they hide out in the back of a horse van driven by … oh let’s see if we can get Jim Gaffigan … who wants to turn them over to the authorities, so they pretend they’re lesbians and make out to stall him. The audience will eat it up! And then they commandeer a bus filled with senior citizens so we can make a bunch of jokes about old people having sex! And then…”

Reese needs somebody who can shoot a better movie.

Reese needs somebody who can shoot a better movie.

I know you won’t believe this, but there’s actually more.

The work of director Anne Fletcher is every bit as by-the-numbers as the script by Feeney and Quaintance. The whole thing feels like one of those microwavable instant meals that can go from freezer to table in under 10 minutes. Sure, it looks like food … it just doesn’t have any flavor.

I do want to be clear about Hot Pursuit … it’s not so much that I disliked this particular movie, it’s that Hot Pursuit is indicative of how mindless and effortless movies have become. True comedy, worthwhile comedy, should be risky and funny and continually surprising. Hollywood’s just feeding us a steady stream of bloated sitcom plots filled with pratfalls and smarmy sex jokes.

Back in the day when I was very active in the feminist movement, we used to say that women will have achieved equality when they have the right to be as idiotic as men. Maybe it’s a sign that the revolution is over and women have climbed the heights, since Hot Pursuit is every bit as inane as anything with Adam Sandler, the Wilson brothers, Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow, and so on.

Or to put it another way, the goal was to afford women the opportunity to create work like Hitchcock or Chaplin, not cough up an estrogen-tinted Mall Cop.

Come back to us, Reese, I still think you’re adorable!

Photos: Sam Emerson, courtesy of Warner Bros. 

Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh-based writer and critic.