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Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Hot Pursuit (2015)

Director: Anne Fletcher
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara
Domestic Box Office: $34,580,201

It seems appropriate to end the summer movie season with this summer's first high profile flop, the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara comedy Hot Pursuit. I would like to think that even if the summer of 2015 hadn't produced what feels like an inordinate number of films featuring interesting and complex female characters, Hot Pursuit would still seem like a bizarre throwback to another era. In truth, it feels less like a theatrical feature from 2015 than a bad TV movie from the 1990s, full of the kind of outdated race/sex/gender/sexuality based humor that would be offensive if it weren't so lazy and entirely out of touch with where our culture currently resides. I don't know what amazes me more: that any studio would bother making something like this (even at its relatively modest production budget), or that even with a female director and three female producers (including Witherspoon), this project couldn't have been reworked into something at least marginally less sexist.

To its credit (sort of), Hot Pursuit tells you exactly how much effort it's going to put into this whole "comedy" thing within its first ten minutes. It introduces its protagonist, Rose Cooper (Witherspoon), through a montage showing that she was groomed to follow in her father's footsteps by becoming a police officer by being taken along with him in his squad car every day from infancy to adolescence, her car seat nestled snuggly in the back, where once in a while she's joined by the perps her father has arrested (which probably isn't the best parenting decision). The film's first "joke" is that a woman who ends up in the back of the car is transgender and has a voice that's nearly as deep as Barry White's. How hilarious. From there the film catches up with Rose as an adult, now a member of the San Antonio Police Department and assigned to working the evidence room, leading one of her male colleagues to openly and chest-thumpingly dismiss her as a glorified secretary in such a way that suggests that while he's vaguely aware that there's this new thing called "women in the workplace," he's never actually had to interact with a woman on a remotely professional level before (and since Rose seems to be the only female police officer in all of San Antonio, perhaps that's true). By way of characterization, the film then establishes that Rose is at once a hyper-vigilant, by the book cop who lives and dies by rules and regulations, and so grossly incompetent that she ended up banished to the evidence room after tasering a kid she heard call out the word "shotgun" and accidentally setting him on fire in the process, an incident so notorious that now any time a cop does something disastrously inept it is known as "Coopering."

Rose is given a reprieve from desk duty when she's assigned to ride with US Marshal Jackson (Richard T. Jones) and assist him as he escorts a cartel informant and his wife, Daniella (Sofia Vergara), from their home to a safe house. While Rose has no experience to speak of with respect to this sort of task, her presence is made necessary by a law which requires a female officer to be present during the transport of a female informant, and, as I said, Rose is apparently the only female police officer in all of San Antonio. Things go awry during the pick up when assassins sent by the cartel come to kill the informants, and another set of armed men arrive for a purpose which isn't entirely clear at first, resulting in a shoot out which leaves the informant and the Marshal dead, and Rose and Daniella forced to flee. Things go from bad to worse when Rose realizes that one of the assassin pairs are actually police officers who are on the cartel payroll, and then Rose is publicly branded a fugitive who attacked the two officers and kidnapped Daniella. Now Rose not only has to find a way to deliver Daniella to safety, she also needs to clear her name for her own sake and to undo the damage that has been done to her father's legacy.

Although it runs at a brisk 87 minutes and fancies itself a comedy, Hot Pursuit is not a film that can be bothered to come up with a lot of different jokes and instead mostly just repeats the same ones over and over again: Daniella talks "funny" and people can't understand what she's saying; people keep describing Daniella as being older than she is; Rose is unfeminine and keeps being mistaken for a boy (in one variation, she purposely dons a Justin Bieber-ish disguise) or disparagingly called a lesbian; people keep describing Rose as being shorter than she is; Rose is super uptight; Daniella does not possess practical "escaping" attire. There's also an extended sequence during which Rose and Daniella none-too-convincingly pretend that they're lesbians in order to arouse/confuse a man who is about to call the police and report them (causing him to accidentally shoot off one of his own fingers), and another in which they manage to evade being taken by two male police officers by pretending to have their periods, so grossing the men out that they hand Rose and Daniella an opportunity to escape. Despite all the women behind it on a production level, Hot Pursuit plays like a movie that hates women, making sure to incorporate at least one kind of misogyny into pretty much every scene. Not that it necessarily has any less contempt for men, all of whom are depicted as some combination of dumb, corrupt, immature, crude, and impulsively violent. This is true even of the film's one "good guy," Rose's love interest, who has a record for assault, but it's characterized as an act of nobility because it was an assault against his sister's abusive boyfriend (later he comes to Rose and Daniella's rescue by physically taking down some bad guys, because God forbid a trained police officer be capable of saving herself).

Hot Pursuit is a bad movie with a horribly retrograde sensibility. That said, it isn't entirely devoid of charm, as Witherspoon and Vergara are both charismatic performers, and some of its humor actually does land (I know that I laughed at least twice; for the life of me I can no longer recall what I was laughing at, but I distinctly remember laughing twice). That isn't enough to make Hot Pursuit even remotely worth watching, however, as it really, truly is a terrible, terrible movie. It also seems like it was destined to fail at the box office, released a week after Avengers: Age of Ultron in a failed bid at counterprogramming. Seeing as how dismal the box office take has been for every movie released in August not named Straight Outta Compton, Hot Pursuit might have done better with an end of summer release. It may not have been any closer to being a blockbuster in August, but its failure to find an audience might have been slightly less notable, surrounded as it would have been by other movies in exactly the same boat.

Should It Have Been a Blockbuster?: It shouldn't even have been a straight to video release


Arion said...

I must confess I'm not really that interested in Hot Pursuit. However I wanted to say that I just read your post about While We're Young and it was great. You seem to be a bit of an expert in Noah Baumbach. Anyway, I also wrote about the film in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):


I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



Norma Desmond said...

I wouldn't call myself an expert, just a fan, but thank you.