Anne Fletcher has had an admirably diverse career, and as a director, she's proven herself to be at least somewhat commercially adept. "Step Up" inspired a slew of sequels, "The Proposal" was one of the biggest of Sandra Bullock's hits, and now she's back with what looks like a big easy summer comedy hit, "Hot Pursuit."
It would be a lot easier to give the film a soft pass if it wasn't so aggressively lazy.
I get it. Formula is easy, and there are plenty of films that exist largely to play directly to expectations. Not every film has to be some radical reinvention of the form. A movie like "Hot Pursuit" is incredibly easy for the people who are giving out the greenlights to understand. "Two stars, on the road, mistaken for bad guys, lots of jokes." If you strike gold with that basic formula, you get "Midnight Run." If you strike out, you get "Hot Pursuit."
There. Now you know every joke in "Hot Pursuit." The single genuinely charming sequence in the film is during the opening titles, where we see a little girl whose single father is a cop, growing up by his side, in his backseat, and surrounded by the world he works in. She grows up to become a cop, determined to live up to the example set by her father. All of this is shown in a series of sweet and funny cuts inside a police car.
And then we catch up with Cooper (Witherspoon) on the job, and she's stuck behind the desk in the evidence intake room thanks to an on-the-job mistake she made that has become legendary. She's given a chance by her boss, Captain Emmett (John Carroll Lynch), to redeem herself by accompanying a detective on a witness transfer. Felipe Riva (Vincent Laresca) has agreed to testify against a ruthless cartel boss named Cortez (Joaquin Cosio), and he and his wife Daniella (Vergara) are to be transported to Dallas where they can wait for the trial. Almost immediately, everything goes wrong when two totally different teams of gunmen show up, killing everyone except Cooper and Daniella, who are forced to depend on each other when it looks like cops and bad guys alike are trying to kill them both.
I don't watch "Modern Family," so I'm not sure how Vergara is on that show, but she's kind of a nightmare in this movie. It's the role as written, so I can't really blame her. It's like they were angry at her, so they made sure to make her shrill and spoiled and mean for no real reason, and the way Fletcher shoots her and the way she's costumed, her sexuality is a cartoon. I can't even describe it as offensive, because it's not like they treat Witherspoon any better. It's just bad writing. And the film's central "mystery" is pathetic, obvious from the beginning and it plays out as if we're supposed to suddenly take things seriously in terms of stakes.
David Feeney and John Quaintance both do a lot of television work, and one of the advantages of TV comedy is that you can start from a fairly broad character and, over time, learn what is great about the performer and the character both, and you can turn a big archetype into a human being over time. In an 87-minute film, especially one as mechanically plotted as this, all you ever get is that first broad level. Oliver Stapleton's photography is that bright washed out ugly that studios love for their mainstream comedies, appropriately anonymous, but it doesn't do either of the leads any favors at all.
It's hard to even get worked up about a film like this. It hurts when you see someone make a film that feels like they were trying their hardest but didn't make it. It can be frustrating when you see something where you radically disagree with the choices the filmmaker made. But a movie like this? I can't work up much passion about it at all, and it doesn't feel like anyone was particularly moved at any point in the process. By the end of the year, I'd be surprised if even the stars remember it happened. "Hot Pursuit" is just a placeholder until the next few big summer movies open, a write-off both creatively and, most likely, financially.
"Hot Pursuit" is in theaters Friday.