I thought Reese Witherspoon was done with this kind of thing.
Last year’s critically acclaimed role as Minneapolis author Cheryl Strayed, who, as a psychophysical cleansing exercise, walked the Pacific Crest Trail in “Wild,” completed the transition to noteworthy performances that had roots in earlier films like “Walk the Line.”
“Hot Pursuit,” this inane buddy roadtrip comedy that co-stars TV’s Sofía Vergara (“Modern Family”), is a return to exuberant, formulaic, seemingly bankable roles that no longer suit the 39-year old Oscar-winner. (Yet at the same time is precisely a grown-up version of the overzealous Tracy Flick in the 1999 Alexander Payne dark comedy, “Election.” See sidebar.)
As the underestimated by-the-book Texas rookie cop Rose Cooper, Witherspoon is relegated to a humdrum non-essential support position in the police evidence room. (I know what you’re thinking: “The Other Guys,” or maybe “Mall Cop.”) But the task of escorting safely to Dallas the wife of an organized crime underling testifying against a South American kingpin provides an opportunity for her to show her mettle. (Clint Eastwood’s “The Gauntlet” and Robert De Niro’s “Midnight Run” come to mind.)
Against the forces of the cartel, corrupt cops, and sometimes Vergara herself, Cooper perseveres in this uneven mediocre comedy in which it takes Vergara almost a full hour to break free of her tragically flat (well, character-wise, anyway) stereotype of a ditzy shoe-fanatic trophy wife.
The intrigue is mild, the twists are loose. But the real problems are the laughs, of which there are only a few. Two running gags have with each broadcast news report Witherspoon getting shorter and Vergara older. And we get so much of Vergara commenting on Witherspoon’s lack of both femininity and bravado (“You’re so ‘leetle'”) that by the time it builds to an otherwise clever zenith — Witherspoon crashing a banquet masquerading as Justin Bieber — it’s just not funny anymore.
Meanwhile, handily the best gag in the film is buried: the two, hiding in the bed of an old pickup truck, costume themselves with a putrid deer carcass they find under a canvas there in order to penetrate a police roadblock. That and a related end-credits outtake of Vergara taking a hoof to the face had me laughing out loud and lamenting how much better this one could have been.
Jim Gaffigan co-stars.
Med City Movie Guy’s rating: 3 Honks