Hot Pursuit casts Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara as the unlikely pairing that is usually at the center of road movies. The two actresses are terrific at what they do, and their chemistry ends up producing a few appealing moments in the film’s blessedly short eighty-seven minute runtime. But their abilities are largely wasted on a film that feels tone deaf and tedious. Hot Pursuit never proves to be worthy of the efforts that its leads put in.
Coop (Reese Witherspoon) was raised in the back of her cop father’s cruiser, and grew up knowing everything about police work. But she's been stuck minding the evidence room ever since her by-the-book approach to everything led her to tase someone for yelling “shotgun.” She's given a chance to redeem herself with an assignment assisting a US Marshall in escorting an important witness in a cartel case. But they're attacked while at the home of the witness, leaving the witness and the marshall dead. Coop escapes with the witness' widow, Daniella (Sofia Vergara), and tries to bring her into police custody. Unfortunately, she discovers that some of the cops she's working with are crooked, and she’s forced to take matters into her own hands
When Daniella learns that her husband is killed, she breaks down to tears. To be more precise, she starts wailing. This is played for laughs, because apparently a widow grieving for the death of her husband is funny. This illustrates just how tone deaf the entire movie is. It doesn’t really seem to know where to look for laughs, and ends up sabotaging its plot and characters in the futile search for jokes. It also sacrifices pace in the pursuit of stretching out jokes that just aren’t worth the trouble.
Among its “jokes:” Witherspoon is short and mannish, Vergara is old and unintelligible, and menstruation is gross. At one point, they pretend to make out with each other in a scene that mostly plays as depressing. In another scene, they are trying to get past a police checkpoint by pretending to be deer. The sequence is mostly them arguing what a deer sounds like. If that doesn’t seem particularly funny, it’s because it isn’t. Rather than work off of the actual strengths of the two actresses, it either preys on their perceived weaknesses on sends them into bizarre antics that are impossible to make funny.
Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara are excellent comedic actresses, and when the movie finds a quiet enough moment, they’re able to employ excellent comic instincts to sell the smallest of jokes. Take notice, for example, of just the way Witherspoon moves, her mode of walking indicating her character’s entire history. But for the most part, the film calls on them to be broad. Witherspoon overplays the awkwardness of her character, huffing and puffing through contrived lines that display an inability to talk like a normal person. Vergara mostly yells a lot. The actresses are giving their all, and there are scenes that are made entertaining through sheer effort. But the movie just isn’t worth the trouble.
It is kind of interesting to note that Hot Pursuit lists Witherspoon and Vergara as producers. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Hollywood as a whole seems to marginalize women, and it should feel like a good thing that these actresses are able to break through the system and create projects for themselves. But this film just isn’t worthy of their talents. Everything about it feels half-baked, both its plot and its gags relying solely on the talents of its leads to sell them. And as great as Witherspoon and Vergara are, their combined efforts aren’t enough to make it work.