'Hot Pursuit' (PG-13)

Sofia Vergara is like the painfully fiery Carolina Reaper pepper in Hot Pursuit – a little bit goes a long way. Couple that with a performance from Reese Witherspoon that has no heat at all, and this buddy cop movie turns criminally bad.

Witherspoon plays Rose Cooper, a second-generation Texas police officer who has become the brunt of precinct jokes. Her career may turn around when she is assigned to help escort a federal witness and his wife, Daniella Riva (Vergara), to a court date. The plan falls apart and Cooper and Riva end up on the run.

This is where writers David Feeney and John Quaintance must have started taking mind-numbing substances. They take the worn out story of putting two people on the run and try to milk jokes out of hackneyed ideas and jokes so old they were probably first told on the lido deck of the Santa Maria.

It starts with the pair being automatically tagged as fugitives. This is necessary to keep them on the run rather than doing the logical thing of calling authorities. It takes a series of convoluted actions to make sure they have no cellphone access despite being in an era when it seems even the squirrels in the trees have a family plan.

Then there are the sexist jokes about Riva’s age (that goes up with each reporting) and Cooper’s height (that goes down with each update). These are mixed with attempts at humor built around Copper’s robotic way of working by the book and Riva’s channeling of the 20th century human annoyance known as Charo.

It’s bad when the jokes are so pathetic the idea of hired killers doesn’t sound that bad.

This combination might have worked 20 years ago when Witherspoon was in her late teens. It would have been far more interesting to see a character like Tracy Flick, from Witherspoon’s Election, failing to do her job because she is overly enthusiastic. Playing a character who is nearly 40 and trying to redeem herself just plays as sad. A younger character would have at least explained why Cooper misses a clue about who is behind the failed assignment, which couldn’t be any bigger if it had been painted on the side of the Goodyear blimp.

It also would have been more interesting to have Vergara play a less vapid character. It would have been more original for her to be the brains rather than the brunt of anatomy jokes. But, that would have taken some thinking by the writers.

Director Anne Fletcher is making a career out of films that treat women as idiots, sex objects or both. It was her hand guiding The Guilt Trip (that had Barbra Streisand playing an overly protective mom), 27 Dresses (that killed Katherine Heigl’s career because of how unlikable she came across) and Step Up (a music video disguised as a movie).

The final measure of how bad this movie is comes in the closing credits. Even the string of bloopers can’t generate a single snicker. They should have shown clips of Witherspoon and Vergara cashing their checks at the bank. At least we would know someone got something out of this Code 13 (major disaster activation).

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, John Carroll Lynch, Rob Kazinsky.

Director: Anne Fletcher.

Screenwriters: David Feeney, John Quaintance.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 87 minutes. Sexual content, violence, language and some drug material. Playing at area theaters.

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