Lawrence Toppman

‘Hot Pursuit’? More like mildly warm.

A police officer (Reese Witherspoon) tries to hang onto a reluctant witness (Sofia Vergara) in “Hot Pursuit.”
A police officer (Reese Witherspoon) tries to hang onto a reluctant witness (Sofia Vergara) in “Hot Pursuit.” Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The first of the Summer Movie Genres – the massive, noisy superhero flick – kicked off the cinema season last week. Now comes the second: the undemanding, slapstick buddy comedy.

“Hot Pursuit” varies from tradition only by gender: The straight-arrow cop escorting a witness and the person trying to get to court alive are both female. Otherwise, this action comedy drives carefully down the middle of familiar roads.

Reese Witherspoon, who was also a producer, plays Cooper; Sofia Vergera is Danielle, the widow of a Latino drug lieutenant en route to testify against her late husband’s boss. Guys with guns, some of them crooked cops and some from the drug trade, give chase.

Writers David Feeney and John Quaintance, who have spent the last decade writing TV sitcoms, think lazily. Doors are always unlocked when needed, fresh transportation always available when a car breaks down or crashes. The cops don’t bother to guard the house of the key witness in a case against the largest drug dealer in America.

Yet director Anne Fletcher makes up for their half-baked writing by keeping the pace snappy, and the two stars enter into the loopy spirit of the project wholeheartedly.

Vergara lets us laugh at her glamorous image, playing to the stereotype of the quick-tempered Latina with a mind full of cotton candy, and the writers make good use of that cliché to take us aback from time to time.

Witherspoon has always been funny as uptight authority figures, from “Election” through “Inherent Vice,” and it’s a pleasure to watch Cooper unwind. (Though in what universe Witherspoon is “unattractive” or “mannish” or “looks like a little boy,” as characters say here, I do not know.)

The movie contains one genuine surprise and a series of plot twists so halfhearted you can tell the filmmakers were embarrassed by them. The offhand romance between Cooper and a cheerful felon (Robert Kazinsky) feels perfunctory, though it softens Cooper’s character.

Much of the movie’s charm comes from seeing middle-aged women in roles that usually go to middle-aged men. (Vergara is 42; Witherspoon will be 40 next March.) “Hot Pursuit” isn’t funnier than most male outings in the cop-witness genre – the 1988 “Midnight Run” remains the best of those – but its casting makes it fresher than many.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

REVIEW

‘Hot Pursuit’

A by-the-book cop transports a gangster’s widow to court, as thugs and crooked officers try to intervene in this action comedy.

B- STARS: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara.

DIRECTOR: Anne Fletcher.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes.

RATING: PG-13 (sexual content, violence, language and some drug material).

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