That well-worn cliché where a dressed-down movie star arrives at that breathless moment when the glasses are removed and the edges of the frame become swarmed in bokeh gets an unintentional inversion in Hot Pursuit. Reese Witherspoon, usually such a reliably cute and perky performer, emerges in this oil-meets-water buddy-road-heist comedy as a shockingly fussy and inept comedienne. Only the fact that she’s been paired with Sofía Vergara on ai chihuahua autopilot keeps her from vanishing off the screen entirely. Well, that and a Texas accent that would’ve been deemed too hacky for the sixth season of Mama’s Family.
Witherspoon is Officer Rose Cooper, a second-generation cop whose common sense is even less pronounced than her Golden Girls namesake. Desperate to live up to the legacy of her father, she joins the thin blue line and, upon misunderstanding the slang meaning of the term “shotgun” and Tasering the mayor’s son, gets relegated to overseeing the evidence room. One day, she’s selected to accompany Daniella Riva (Vergara) to Dallas, where she’s expected to testify against a brutal drug-cartel boss. (The reason the hapless Cooper is chosen is that a female officer must serve as Riva’s escort—and that the film implies that Cooper is the only female in the SAPD is by some measure the most believable element in the entire film.)
Dueling hitmen arrive at the pickup, forcing Cooper and her Real Housewife of Cordillera Ranch to boot-scoot their way out of Dodge with both cartel stooges and the entire Texas police force on their heels—six-inch spikes in Riva’s case, sensible flats in Cooper’s. In many films of this ilk, an abundance of plot tends to get in the way of letting clean, simple characterizations shine through. In the case of Hot Pursuit, which fills in its main story points (e.g. double crosses, authoritative corruption, granny panties) in strictly paint-by-numbers fashion, plot overload would’ve at least provided some relief to Witherspoon and Vergara, both clearly taxed by the shallowness of their roles.
Witherspoon is, to her credit, unafraid to come off priggish and sour as Cooper. But the only thing that could’ve redeemed the conceit of a frigid lady cop in desperate need of, ahem, a hot shot would’ve been Witherspoon’s natural charm, which is conspicuously missing in action. As a mob moll fixated on her suitcase filled with jewel-studded heels, Vergara is, even more gallingly, only required to make Charo’s enunciation look Shakespearean in comparison, and to that end she delivers, subservient to a tidal wave of cultural stereotyping. She gives the movie energy at the cost of her own dignity; the only thing that could’ve made her misguided contribution grislier would have been to fellate a Chiquita banana.
Some of the more condescending reviews of Witherspoon’s recent projects have patted her on the head for graduating to the big leagues of executive production, as though being one of the most powerful female stars in Hollywood still required her to stiffen up in class in order to wheel deals behind the scenes. Sadly, if Hot Pursuit (which she also produced) is any indication, she’s taking the lesson to heart. Reese, just because you can play with the boys doesn’t mean you have to stoop to their level.