Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hot Pursuit: Review

It shouldn’t be a big deal to have two well-known actresses starring in a big summer movie. But we live in a world in which Scarlett Johansson’s ability to headline a film is actually up for debate. So it is kind of a big deal that Hot Pursuit rests solely on the tag team of Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon, and that the director entrusted to bring home this perp-cop movie—usually a male-dominated genre—is a woman, Anne Fletcher.

One doesn’t get too many of these in a year, movies in which the leads are women, the male actors aren’t remotely well known, and one doesn’t have to think about the Bechdel Test. Of course, it helps if the film is actually any good, otherwise you’re simply arguing on principle. Hot Pursuit is far from a great film: the premise and the writing simply aren’t original or inventive enough. But it’s an amiable film, one which doesn’t aim too high or pretend to be anything else than a silly summer comedy.

The opening sequence, set to the strains of Tom Petty’s "American Girl" (covered by Elle King), might be the best thing in the film. We see Rose Cooper as a baby, as a little girl, as a teenager heading to prom, always in the backseat of her policeman father’s car. This is Hollywood at its pithiest, telling us the following things in the space of a few minutes: Cooper is her father’s girl; she’s wanted to be a cop all her life; and her personal life might have suffered as a consequence. The first scene outside the car has Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) chasing what we assume is a criminal. It turns out it’s just a guy trying to bail on a date with her.

In most films, someone as socially inept as Cooper would be shown as being great at her job. (Aaron Sorkin does that a lot.) We’re spared that cliché here: Cooper is a by-the-numbers cop given to panicked overreactions; she’s been relegated to the evidence room after an incident with a taser and a misunderstanding of the term ‘shotgun’. When a former drug dealer decides to turn on his boss, Cooper is called in to help escort him to court, but only because the law requires a female cop to travel with the informant’s wife.

It comes as no surprise when the informant and Cooper’s partner are shot by masked men. In a matter of a few scenes, Cooper and the man’s wife, Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), find themselves framed for the crime and on the lam. Daniella shakes off her husband’s death as only someone in a Hollywood comedy can, and gets down to the real business of the movie: setting up a battle of wills with Cooper. Witherspoon gamely allows herself to be cast as the unglamorous square—both stars are executive producers—allowing Vergara to play a variation on her glamorous, malapropism-spraying character on Modern Family.

Hot Pursuit is somewhat reminiscent of the buddy cop film The Heat. The banter between Witherspoon and Vergara is a milder version of the R-rated bickering of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in that 2012 film. But The Heat (and its predecessor, Bridesmaids) felt like minor events, signaling the advent of the female-driven shock comedy. Hot Pursuit, on the other hand, is a conventional, crowd-pleasing comedy. Despite a couple of outré moments, this is a film more likely to appeal to fans of Modern Family or Fletcher’s 2009 comedy The Proposal than, say, Lena Dunham’s Girls.

This review appeared in Mint Lounge.

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