Formula isn’t always a bad thing in films. Formulas have been established in certain genres in order to provide a framework so that more interesting script elements can be emphasized, but this does have the consequence of making some films predictable. The buddy cop comedy genre has practically written itself into staplehood, where any hack screenwriter can write one and it will still function as a serviceable film. That’s what seems to have happened with Hot Pursuit. Critically panned across the board, I don’t actually think the film is all that bad. It just isn’t especially good and relies heavily upon its formula.
Stop me if you’ve heard something similar before. Reese Witherspoon plays an incompetent cop with a reputation for messing up on the job. Sofia Vegara is the trophy wife to a drug cartel boss who wants to enter witness protection. When Witherspoon is assigned to act as Vegara’s police escort (presumably because she’s San Antonio’s only female officer?), things get rough quickly as the two are attacked by masked men, forcing the two to get into wild shenanigans while they evade their pursuers.
Now, I normally wouldn’t give much credence to the film where one of the first jokes is a transwoman trap gag, but the film mostly stays away from such crass forms of “comedy.” Unlike Paul Blart, Hot Pursuit actually has jokes written into its script, and while not all of them are funny, there at least is some effort put into the process. There are jokes about Witherspoon’s height and Vagara’s age that are played up for some cute chuckles, and while the film never caused me to laugh outright, I can see how someone might find some of the antics funny. There are moments of unfortunate writing, like a scene where the oft-repeated punchline is that “periods are gross,” but overall, the film is pretty harmless.
What I think will really sell this for some people is the comedic chemistry between Witherspoon and Vagara. They aren’t the next big thing in comedy, but they have a good feel for one other and can project larger than life personalities onto their admittedly stock characters. Many scenes as written wouldn’t have been as amusing without their performances. Witherspoon in particular has proved herself to be above this kind of generic production, but she seems like she’s having fun in the role so it makes it easy to have fun with her.
All in all, Hot Pursuit is not a film that will cause anyone to sit up and take notice. It’s a film to watch once and immediately forget about, a most inoffensive eighty minutes without any pretense to being anything more than a momentary diversion. Is it as horrible as the critical press has said? No, not really, as the performances are the most redeeming quality that I feel was vastly overlooked. But will this film be remembered even a month after its home video release? Probably not.
What otherwise bad films were made better by the inclusion of skilled performers? Share your favorites in the comments below.