Last year, Reese Witherspoon received praise and an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Wild, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir about how Strayed found a measure of redemption by taking a solo, 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.
That was then. The view from 2015 doesn’t look nearly as good.
PG-13 for sexual content, violence, language and some drug material
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Witherspoon returns to action with Hot Pursuit, a painfully bad comedy that seems to have been engineered to float in the wake of The Heat, a female buddy movie that teamed a street-wise Boston cop (Melissa McCarthy) with a by-the-book FBI agent (Sandra Bullock).
As one of the film’s producers, Witherspoon presumably had something to do with how Hot Pursuit turned out. Let’s assume, then, that she wasn’t totally victimized by a formulaic story, third-rate dialogue and bungled direction from Anne Fletcher.
For the record, Fletcher also directed the nearly unbearable Guilt Trip, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, two performers who probably never again should be caught in the same movie, maybe even the same state.
Witherspoon teams with Sophia Vergara, who got an executive producer credit, for a story about a Texas cop who’s assigned the task of guarding the wife of a key witness who’s supposed to testify against a Colombian drug lord.
How off-key is the comedy? An early picture joke involves the way Witherspoon’s Cooper mistakenly uses a Taser on an innocent youth, just the sort of gag we need in a post-Baltimore, post Ferguson world.
Witherspoon spends most of the movie being southern, perky, clueless and plain. Working the Latin bombshell routine as hard as she can, Vergara could pass for the love child that a union between Charo and Desi Arnaz might have produced.
The humor plays on the difference between the exaggerated sexuality of Vergara’s character and the supposedly boyish looks of Witherspoon’s Cooper. Not funny in the beginning and not funny at the end.
After a bit of violence eliminates Cooper’s partner, she and Vergara’s Daniella take flight in a road movie that has the two of them having what (for the sake of argument) we’ll call adventures.
An example: In a confrontation with a Texas redneck, Cooper and Daniella pretend to be lesbians.
The two antagonists eventually become friends — although not before the movie makes a last-minute attempt at behaving like a thriller.
And, yes, we see outtakes in which Vergara and Witherspoon crack each other up. I’m glad that they, at least, had a good time. But then, they didn’t have to sit through this tin-eared mess of a movie.