“Hot Pursuit” has earned the distinction of being the only film to make me amused at the prospect of “raccoon herpes.” The phrase in itself isn’t entirely unfunny (just say it to yourself), but what made me laugh out loud was Reese Witherspoon’s commitment to saying it deadpan (try doing that). She and costar Sofia Vergara take a subpar script from TV writers David Feeney and John Quaintance and run with it, showing their comedic prowess and turning cinematic lemons into Mike’s Hard Lemonade. It’s not tasty, but it gets the job done.
Similar to director Anne Fletcher’s “The Proposal,” “Hot Pursuit” gets by on the charm and chemistry of its leads. This is an unsubtle, loud and not particularly bright comedy, but that’s not to say that it isn’t funny. Your head will hurt from the stupidity present throughout its 87 minutes, but your abs will get quite a workout from the constant laughing. Don’t worry: there’s more than one reason that multiplexes are dark.
Like “The Heat,” “Hot Pursuit” pairs a by-the-book law enforcement professional with a far more relaxed woman dealing with some dangerous circumstances. Elle King’s cover of Tom Petty classic “American Girl” kicks things off, showing Witherspoon’s Cooper as a young girl who idolizes her cop father and spends most of her time as a kid in the back of his patrol car. Naturally, when Cooper grows up, she follows her father to join the San Antonio police. Her overeagerness has temporarily landed her in a desk job, and her male colleagues won’t let her forget her biggest fumble or her gender.
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However, it’s Cooper’s unique position as a woman in the force that gets her back in the field. To keep a drug kingpin behind bars, the DEA needs Felipe Riva (Vincent Laresca) and his wife Daniella (Vergara) to testify in Dallas, and they need a woman present to escort Daniella. When Cooper and a DEA agent (Richard T. Jones) attempt to take the couple to Dallas, two separate groups of criminals get in the way, leaving Cooper and Daniella alone and on the lam in Texas. Along the way, they encounter various men, from the unfortunate owner of a truck they need to commandeer (Jim Gaffigan) to an ex-con (Robert Kazinsky), who develops a crush on the intense Cooper.
This is bona fide buddy comedy, which makes it stand out amongst both in its subgenre and films geared toward women. Out of the top grossing buddy films, only “The Heat” has two women at its center. To put that in perspective, there are more films starring both Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez on the list (thank you, “Stakeout” and “Another Stakeout”) than there are films with any two actresses. It’s also a rarity for a film with women stars not to center on a romantic relationship with a guy. “Hot Pursuit” slips a bit on that score in light of the extraneous sidestory of Cooper’s flirtation with the ex-con, but Kazinsky’s line delivery and his chemistry with Witherspoon compensates, and this film reassuringly focuses on the rapport between the two leads. Vergara and Witherspoon play well off each other, even when the script forces them into eye-roll-causing antics.
“Hot Pursuit” doesn’t get a pass for employing a rare female director in a studio movie or having two big-name women as its stars. It’s sloppy and silly, and it’s about as enlightened on gender and other social issues as you’d expect from screenwriters who have logged time on shows like “2 Broke Girls,” “Whitney” and “According to Jim.” Despite all its flaws, it achieves its goal of making the audience laugh, even against their better judgment. [B-]