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The pairing of Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara grabs the headlines and makes Hot Pursuit work better than it has any right to, but that’s not enough to justify the price of a ticket.

Illegally Blonde

Sofia Vergara (left) and Reese Witherspoon (right) hope to set off fireworks while in Hot Pursuit
Sofia Vergara (left) and Reese Witherspoon (right) hope to set off fireworks while in Hot Pursuit

The opening credits reveal the childhood of Rose Cooper (Witherspoon, Wild). She’s basically raised in the back seat of her father’s patrol car. Regardless of the notion that he’s a well-respected police officer (who ultimately is killed in the line of duty), he sees fit to have his daughter accompany him through her infancy and on into her teenage years. Even her first date, somehow, takes place in the back seat of the cop car.

In the process, Rose learns all the codes for police actions and legal matters. Rose is anal beyond reason, a borderline idiot savant, the kind of girl with whom Rain Man might be able to carry on meaningful conversations.

But, for all that book savvy and, theoretically, tons of street smarts gained from years of riding with her legendary father, she doesn’t know what it means when the mayor’s son shouts out to his friends, “I’ve got shotgun.”

The mix of spilled alcohol and Rose’s Taser set the young man on fire and puts Rose on desk duty. The notorious incident turns into its own code among her fellow officers, who talk about how so-and-so “pulled a Cooper” or “you’ve been Coopered.”

Gone Girls

So there it is, the fractured logic that is Hot Pursuit. Obviously, this is not the territory of sophisticated comedy. This is elevator-pitch storytelling: She’s an uptight career policewoman and, given the opportunity to redeem herself, she’s put in charge of escorting a drug trafficker’s wife as part of a witness protection program. Hilarity and mayhem ensues (according to the pitch).

That wife is none other than Sofia Vergara (TV’s Modern Family), or, rather, her character, Daniella Riva. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one person’s schtick ends and the character’s begins.

Daniella is over the top in her own hot mess of ways. She’s a trophy wife/gold digger to a drug boss and she’s extremely reluctant to cooperate at any level. Throw the wild drug wife and the uptight cop together and bada boom. Fireworks.

Or not.

Not So Wild

At its core, Hot Pursuit is a meshing of genres, the unlikely pairing and the road trip. Planes, Trains and Automobiles comes to mind as the benchmark for this mesh. Hot Pursuit, though, takes too many wrong turns with its contrasting couple.

The problem — heck, there are many problems — is the vibe reeks of TV situation comedy instead of big screen comedy. That’s no doubt because the writers, David Feeney and John Quiantance, come from the world of sitcoms: New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, Ben and Kate, Bad Judge; it’s quite a roster of TV humor on their collective resumes.

But that comedy mindset doesn’t seamlessly translate to the big screen. It can’t keep up with the narrative demands in shifting from 22 minutes to 87 (in this case). Having this unlikely pairing escape a police dragnet by donning a deer rug conspicuously placed in the bed of a pickup would likely garner roars of laughter from a live studio audience. On a movie screen, it’s less funny and more crummy.

The chemistry between Witherspoon and Vergara actually works. They’re both watchable, the voluptuous Colombian and the ultra-petite American. They do have the capacity to clash and spark and ignite fireworks, but the material they’re working with here is nothing more than waterlogged gunpowder.