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In ‘Hot Pursuit,’ the opening and closing credits are better than the movie

If you see it at all, you’ll want to stick around for the blooper reel at the end of “Hot Pursuit.” It’s the funniest sequence in the movie, by far.

Come to think of it, the sequence behind the movie’s opening credits is absolutely charming, too. It promises a sweetness, charm and big-hearted whimsy that the movie itself doesn’t begin to provide. What we see in that opening credit montage are select scenes of a doting cop’s daughter growing up in the back seat of Daddy’s cop car, from the baby car seat where he gives her handcuffs to play with, to various childhood stages and the accumulated learning of all those code numbers for crimes on the police radio.

Any time someone wants to get around to expanding all that into a whole movie, give me a call.

As funny as they are, those final end-credit bloopers, on the other hand, tell you everything you need to know about why this squabbling female buddy flick is as lackluster as it is. To wit: No one cared enough to make it better than it is because they didn’t think they had to.

The movie was over the minute the deal was made. Just signing the contracts to make this thing was enough to put posteriors in seats. It’s almost too bad, really, they had to actually arrive on a movie set every day and care about making the bloody thing.

It’s the high concept people are willing to plunk down box office money for: Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara bickering and performing C-minus slapstick while on the road in Texas and fleeing from two, count ’em, sets of marauders who seem to want them dead.

Witherspoon plays a cop who was that little girl in the charming opening credit montage. Vergara plays the trophy wife of a mob accountant who’s about to testify against his fearsome drug cartel boss.

The cop is along for the ride as a legally required baby sitter for the glamorous wife who won’t go anywhere without her suitcase full of outrageously spangly shoes.

When things quickly go wrong with the cop’s plan for the accountant’s testimony, the two women – absurdly intense cop and absurdly sexy and gorgeous mob princess – are on the lam from two completely separate sets of marauders, each one seemingly deadlier than the other.

The movie comes from Witherspoon’s decision in her late 30s (she’s 39) to be as much of a successful movie producer as an actress. Vergara at 43 (don’t tell me I’m being ungentlemanly; age is a running gag in the movie) is, quite literally, a phenomenon in American pop culture: a tall, beautiful, voluptuous, wildly sexy, plump-lipped goddess from Colombia with an almost impenetrable accent and a genuinely large and lovable cache of comedy gifts.

For those who know a bit of movie and TV history, it’s as if someone almost succeeded in putting Sophia Loren, Lucille Ball and Lupe Velez into one package. The world loves this woman to pieces – men, women, children – all for different reasons, of course, but all with equal intensity.

So there’s your movie before anyone steps in front of an intrusive camera. As soon as they sign on the dotted line, who cares? You’ve got the 5-foot-2-inch Witherspoon as the jabbery, intense young cop, Vergara as the goddess in stiletto heels, both fleeing for 90 minutes of supposedly irresistible comedy. It’s this month’s update on Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, you know? People will pony up for a ticket no matter how it turns out.

Let’s admit that in this movie where women were conspicuously in charge as producers, stars and the director (Anne Fletcher), there is one genuinely hilarious scene where Vergara in her mangled Spanglish explains menstruation to two unusually dimwitted and anatomically challenged Texas cops. It’s almost worth the price of admission.

Almost.

It’s all that is, though.

Witherspoon works hard for the money in the movie’s first half – much too hard – to give us the comic intensity of an overeager, motormouth, by-the-rules cop. This is not a woman generally given to bad performances. Chalk this one up to being a producer and prime power on the set for a movie where she knows no one else cares all that much about making it good.

Why on earth should they? Just put Vergara onscreen for 90 minutes, give her a foil – any foil at all will do – and you’re in business.

This movie is in business. Big business, most likely.

Too bad, it’s not much of a movie except for the opening and closing credits.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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