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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Hot Pursuit


U.S.: Anne Fletcher, 2015


Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergera play two gals on the run in South Texas in the new movie Hot Pursuit: Reese is a diminutive fussbudget blonde by-the-book cop named Cooper and Sofia is a statuesque sexpot drug cartel wife named Daniella Riva. And they’re so much better than the movie itself that you wonder if the two costars might be deliberately outshining their own vehicle. Watching this nitwit show (as Todd McCarthy accurately described it), I wouldn’t put it past them.

The movie is just as lousy as almost everyone says it is, though remarkably enough it looks pretty good — thanks to its picturesque stars, to director Anne Fletcher and to what must have been a crack production team. Fletcher, an ex-choreographer who‘s also directed The Proposal and The Guilt Trip, knows how to move people around a set, and her energetic costars Reese and Sofia know how to let themselves be moved — and if you didn’t have to follow the plot or listen to the dialogue or try to make sense of the damned thing, Hot Pursuit might seem almost okay.

But unfortunately the show has a script (by David Feeney and John Quaintance) — a particularly senseless one that makes cliché-ridden hash out of some of the ideas in that classic road-buddy chase comedy Midnight Run (with its great buddy-buddy bickering chemistry by Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin). Lacking the kind of jokes and dialogue scriptwriter George Gallo supplied director Martin Brest for Midnight Run, Witherspoon and Vergera (and Fletcher) have to try to redeem the awful screenplay they’ve gotten. And, if sheer energy and chutzpah and willingness to make fun of yourself could do the trick, they might have made it.

But here, what we get is a ludicrous mish-mash and an amazingly silly, fiasco of a buddy-buddy comedy thriller. If the title Hot Pursuit sounds familiar, that’s because it was already used for a 1987 road comedy with the younger John Cusack and a pretty good cast (including Ben Stiller and his father Jerry) and another script that wasn’t very good or very original or worth doing. This show isn’t very good (or original) or worth doing either, and if it didn’t have Witherspoon and Vergara goosing it up at every possible turn of the road, it would probably be barely watchable.

As it is, Hot Pursuit begins with its only good comic idea: a montage of scenes in the back seat of Cooper’s dad’s car, a sequence in which she grows up as she talks to various perps, including a baritone transsexual hooker. We soon learn that Cooper’s dad was a San Antonio cop, loved by all, and that his daughter, who wants to live up to his tradition of police excellence, has joined the San Antonio PD and become its laughing stock.

This SAPD ignominy is thanks to one of the worst comedy ideas in the movie, far more typical of the stuff the show will be spewing at us for the next hour and a half or so. In it, nervous cop Cooper, confronting a bunch of unruly local kids, hears one of them gabbing about riding shot gun, mistakes this for a reference to an actual shotgun, mistakes her own fire-gun for a taser, hastily pulls it out, and sets the poor kid on fire. If you’re capable of laughing at that gag, or at least not groaning (or gagging) at it, you may have a good time at Hot Pursuit — which has plenty more where that came from. If not, you may have to resort to counting all the bad gags in the show to put yourself to sleep. I wouldn’t put it past you.

Soon the rest of the sorry plot kicks in, along with costar Vergera (the linguistically acrobatic Latina star of TV‘s Modern Family), babbling away like Ricky Ricardo. (Cooper may her Lucy.). Officer Cooper, trying to redeem herself, has been assigned, by the suspiciously tolerant Capt. Emmett (John Carrol Lynch) to accompany Daniella and fellow officer Jackson (Richard T. Jones) and Daniella’s mob accountant husband Felipe (Vincent Laresca) to the trial, in Dallas, of cocaine cartel boss Vicente Cortez (Joaquin Cosio), with Felipe as the star witness.

For no reason I could discern, the Riva Manions seems to be unguarded — or at least very lightly guarded — despite the fact that all previous star witnesses against Cortez have been pretty quickly whacked. Nor does Daniella, babbling away while packing a suitcase full of shoes, seem especially worried. But when Cooper and Jackson show up, they are immediately joined by two sets of gunmen, who kill most of the people around, including Felipe, Cooper’s partner and some of the gunmen themelves, and send Cooper and Daniella off on a mad ride in Daniella‘s red Cadillac to Dallas, pursued (hotly) by more gangsters, and by crooked (and straight) cops.

Along the way, they run into several Southern-fried comic imbeciles, a whole tour bus full of laughing screeching oldsters, the movie‘s love interest (which turns out to be Robert Kazinsky as a parolee with a pickup truck, an ankle bracelet monitor and a deer costume) and more bad jokes (by everybody) and frantic mile-a-minute cross-talk (by the costars) than you would have thought humanly possible. Was any of it improvised? I wouldn’t put it past them.

Reese Witherspoon has been excellent at comedy elsewhere, especially when she played, wonderfully, the ruthless school presidential candidate in that terrific Alexander Payne comedy Election. And she was so good in her last movie (Wild), and it was such a worthy project, that you may wonder what she’s doing in a picture like this, that requires her to jabber away constantly with costar Sofia (who can out-jabber her any day of the week), as well as get her fanny stuck in a bathroom window while trying to escape some of those crooked cops, to ingest what seems about a ton of cocaine after a truck-car crash, to submit to endless jokes about her height (while Vergara submits to endless jokes about her age), to run around in that deer costume (supposedly disguised), to be constantly upstaged by her co-star’s bosom, and to behave throughout like a cross between Betty Hutton, Don Knotts, and the entire cast of Hee Haw. One thing’s for sure: she has the guts of a bandit. (See below.)

Director Fletcher’s last road comedy, The Guilt Trip, which was just slightly better than this one, involved Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, more bad jokes and a lot of process shots. This one has lots of location and stunt work (and worse jokes), as well as an hommage to that amiable director, car-chase expert and stunt man supreme Hal Needham and his 1977 car and truck chase classic Smokey and the Bandit. (See above.) Just like Needham, Fletcher, or her producers (which include both Witherspoon and Vergara), runs outtakes of the cast’s bloopers over the end-credits. Since Smokey and the Bandit was director Needham’s only really good movie (at least of the ones I’ve seen), the outtakes and bloopers quickly became the best thing about his later pictures, and reviewers began singling them out for ironic praise.

It would be tempting to say that the outtakes and bloopers are the best things about Hot Pursuit too — but, in fact, they aren’t very good, or very funny, either. Maybe they were phony outtakes. Or maybe the whole damned movie was a blooper. I wouldn’t put it past them.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon