"Hot Pursuit" is a witless action comedy opening in the enormous shadow of "Avengers: Age of Ultron." Its appeal is based solely on being the only new game in town. Its box office is going to drop off a cliff as soon as it has fresh competition, which is fine because it doesn't deserve even the mild success that it's enjoying at the moment.
The film stars Reese Witherspoon as Cooper, a disgraced cop with a chance at redemption. She's assigned to protect Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), the wife of a cartel snitch. The Riva house is compromised, the husband is killed, and Cooper and Mrs. Riva have to go on the run until they can get her into proper protective custody. This is a buddy/road movie, one where the two leads don't like each other at first, but they form a begrudging friendship and then that friendship is tested.
For a throwaway comedy, the film is surprisingly heavy on plot. There are two competing teams of assassins after Cooper and Riva. Allegiances keep flip-flopping around. And Riva lies so much we wonder if she's ever told the truth. For all I know she isn't even Columbian, she's Scandinavian.
What can I say about the humor in the film that isn't in the trailer? Riva is loudmouthed and materialistic, Cooper is by-the-book and socially awkward (and short, as we're relentlessly reminded). They bicker a lot without developing any real rapport, they only end up as friends because the plot requires them to save each other. They outsmart the male bad guys by being only moderately dumb while the men are astoundingly dumb. Here's how dumb the average male is in this movie: Cooper is able to sneak into girl's birthday party by convincing security that she's Justin Bieber. It's a mildly funny, though cheap laugh to see Witherspoon dressed up as Bieber, and if I were one of the guards, I would compliment her on her costume, but there's no way she's passing for the real thing.
Actually, the one bit in "Hot Pursuit" that does work is one that isn't in the trailer. It's the opening montage of Cooper growing up riding in the back of her father's police cruiser. The sequence is funny and sweet and I wish the rest of the film had as much heart. The bumbling Cooper that we see in the rest of the film is practically an entirely different character, played by Witherspoon in an annoying performance that is sure to make Academy voters rethink her Oscar. I'll say the same thing about "Hot Pursuit" that I've said about most of the painful comedies I've seen lately: I laughed just barely enough to keep from absolutely despising it, but there's no denying that it's a bomb.
One and a Half Stars out of Five
A Note on Star Ratings
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify my star rating system. There is no need to convert the star ratings to percentages and then convert the percentages to academic letter grades. For example, although One and a Half Stars is 30 percent of Five Stars, that doesn't mean I'm flunking "Hot Pursuit" at 30 percent. If you feel more comfortable converting my star ratings to letter grades, please use the following system:
Five Stars – A+
Four Stars – A
Three Stars – B
Two Stars – C
One Star – D
Zero Stars (which I've never used, as I'm saving it for something truly vile) – F