This is one of those movie experiences where you see the trailer and it’s exactly what you get in the film, and in this case, that’s not a terrible thing. If you like Leslie Knope’s most over-the-top intense moments on Parks and Recreation, and enjoy Sofía Vergara’s character Gloria in Modern Family, you’ll enjoy Reese Witherspoon and Vergara’s new action-comedy Hot Pursuit. If you don’t like the style of comedy best described as loud yelling and sudden physical comedy, you’ll probably have a bad time. Maybe it’s not the greatest comedy to come out this year, but it is playful and lighthearted.
Witherspoon plays Officer Cooper, who from a young age enjoyed ride-alongs with her father, a well-loved cop in his precinct. As an adult, she became a studious and by-the-book officer, only to screw up while on duty one night that led her fellow officers to refer to messing up as “Pulling a Cooper” from then on, a joke that fortunately does not get overused, though it does seem tempting. After three years of working in the evidence room, Cooper is finally allowed back on the outside to help a U.S. Marshall escort a pair of witnesses to Dallas.
Of course, this is when things go wrong: Cooper is assigned to watch after Mrs. Riva (Vergara), the extremely rich Colombian-American wife of a really rich guy. For reasons that are talked about for probably about ten seconds total, the two of them are witnesses against a man in custody, but they are still in danger. Just as they prepare to leave, a pair of masked gunmen arrives, and the movie kicks off from there.
The film was directed by Anne Fletcher (Step Up), and written by David Finney (New Girl) and John Quaintance (Whitney), two experienced television series writers, so the jokes are a lot like the material found on their programs. Sometimes the plot feels quite rushed, with important information flying out of the mouths of the characters at mach two speeds, and a lot of action happens within the short 87-minute run time. It is absolutely crammed with one-liners, comebacks, yelling, falling, and Vergara attempting to run and hide in heels. As in most comedies of the genre, some jokes are low-brow, low blows: Vergara’s character often references Witherspoon’s character’s boyishness and her “moustache,” but it is attributed to the opposite nature of their personalities and Mrs. Riva’s disdain for the police. It doesn’t really work, considering Mrs. Riva also refers to Officer Cooper’s skinny arms and “woman strength” as well. It’s hard to be offended by these jokes since they make little sense, in or out of context, because really they’re just bad jokes.
The best moments come out of nowhere: there’s a guy sitting quietly in a bar bathroom stall, wearing over-the-ear headphones and watching something on his iPad, and it is probably the realest moment in the film. The jokes centering on womanhood often subvert the expectation created by the set-ups, a trick many fans of New Girl will immediately recognize. I also appreciated the fact that literally every single person the duo meets calls BS on their lame attempts at pretending to not be fugitives who are all over the news. It’s a nice change from the blind faith or sudden change of heart sometimes seen in films like this one. The best action sequence reminded me of Rat Race (the 2001 sort-of remake of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), so if you’ve seen and enjoyed that film, then Hot Pursuit isn’t that different.
The third act is unfortunately underwhelming, with a twist that really just doesn’t work since the basic plot points were so rushed through in the beginning. Witherspoon and Vergara make for a decent team of opposites forced to work together, but the plot forces them to remain at odds for silly reasons. Both actresses do equal amounts of screaming and yelling, and it’s nice to see Witherspoon having fun with a role after working on a number of dramas. Even though it’s not a great film, the ending scenes left the audience smiling. It is not agreat cop comedy, but it does make for an amusing watch and doesn’t try too hard to achieve more.